What I’ve watched in 2017–18: Supernatural fiction

As I already mentioned, I’ve been keeping track of the TV and film I’ve been watching, but then didn’t get round to polishing it into actual blog posts. There’s an index post that I’m still assembling and a handful of other posts that aren’t yet finished, plus a piece on zombie films and a long piece on Queer cinema. Originally, I had a single post for speculative fiction, but I’m sure noone’s surprised that I watched rather a lot of that, so I split it up. There’ll be more soon(ish) once I’ve finished copy-editing 😉

Cleverman (TV series, 2016– )

Hunter Page-Lochard as Koen West, the eponymous Cleverman.

Cleverman is a fascinating piece of television, which I almost overlooked because the Netflix blurb sells it quite so badly. This Australian–New Zealand co­produc­tion for SundanceTV re‑imagines several stories of the Aboriginal Dreamtime in a modern, superheroic, dystopian context and reflects on racism, border protection and the treatment of indigenous peoples and of asylum seekers.

With an 80% indigenous cast, season 1 is set 6 months after The Emergence of the “Hairypeople”, another species of Homo also drawn from indigenous mythology, who are ostracised by society and confined to a shantytown. The central story revolves around two estranged Gumbaynggirr brothers who are forced together to fight for their own survival when one of them inherits the mantle of the Cleverman — a spiritual leader and conduit between the present and the Dreamtime and the only person who can defeat a mythological creature on the loose.

Ryan Griffen has written about how he had to fight for his Aboriginality, as a light-skinned child, and wanted to inspire his own son Koen (for whom the protagonist is named):

I wanted to create an Aboriginal superhero that he could connect with, no matter what others said. I wanted a character that would empower him to stand and fight when presented with racism. Just like the old Dreaming stories, Cleverman would be able to teach moral lessons; not only for my son, not just for Aboriginal people, but for many more out there as well.

Seeing a show like this — being quite so up-front about racism, discrimination and the treatment of minorities — being made in a country as overtly racist as Australia is really promising, as well as it being an excellent addition to the superheroic and dystopian genres.

Edited to add: I’ve been pointed to a couple of great videos about the theme song (which blends “modern Black music — rap — and traditional Black Australian music”):

Season 1 is available to stream on Netflix UK and can be bought for £4·99 on Amazon UK, Google Play and iTunes. Season 2 was on BBC3 last year but doesn’t appear to be available in the UK atm. Both seasons can be streamed on Netflix US, bought for US$9.99 each on Google Play or US$14.99 each on Amazon Video and iTunes; Canadian friends are shit out of (legal) luck, however.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018– )

Kiernan Shipka as Sabrina Spellman.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina were originally intended as a companion to Riverdale on The CW, based on the Archie Horror title of the same name, but was instead moved to Netflix with a straight-to-series order for a 2-part single-season.

Queer Latinx writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa created the Archie Horror title, based on the Archie Comics title Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Afterlife with Archie, showing Archie Andrews in the midst of a zombie apocalypse 🤩, which earned him the CCO role at Archie Comics. He is showrunner for CAOS and Riverdale, as well as being and having been screenwriter of the Carrie remake, a writer and producer for Big Love, Glee, Looking and Supergirl, a Harvey Award winner and twice a GLAAD Award nominee.

Sabrina is coming up to her 16th birthday, when she will be expected to enter her name in The Dark Lord’s ledger and leave her mortal friends behind to join The Church of Night. But she likes her friends and school and she is only a half-witch…

Sabrina lives at the Greendale mortuary, which is run by her aunts — cuddly Hilda (Lucy Davis) and spiky Zelda (Miranda Otto) — and her (hot, British, pansexual!) cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo). But she also goes to the regular human high school, with her boyfriend Harvey (Ross Lynch) and her best friends Roz (Jaz Sinclair), genderqueer Susie (played by genderqueer actor Lachlan Watson). And there are her contemporaries at the Academy of the Unseen Arts, the three “Weird Sisters” (Tati Gabrielle, Adeline Rudolph and Abigail F. Cowen) and Nicholas Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood), and the High Priest of Night (Richard Coyle).

The production design is stunning, as are Robert Hack’s titles:

Season 1A is great fun and was released globally on Netflix on 26 October 2018; episode 1x11 (“A Midwinter’s Tale”) was released on 14 December 2018 (though I’ve not watched that yet), with the back-half due to be released on 5 April 2019. Season 2, again to be split in twain, is on order.

Teen Wolf (2011–17)

Khylin Rhambo, Dylan Sprayberry, Holland Roden, Tyler Posey, Dylan O’Brien and Shelley Hennig in Teen Wolf

MTV’s supernatural YA series Teen Wolf has long been a slightly-guilty pleasure. Behind a (very) convincing façade of shallow YA bollocks, it’s a surprisingly good, well-thought-through show backed by a considered and consistent lore, with writing and cinematography far better than you’d expect for a show with unfeasibly attractive teens and 20somethings and mythical beings.

A re-imagining of the 1985 film and its 1987 sequel, it centres on high-school student Scott McCall (Tyler Posey) and his best friend ‘Stiles’ Stilinski (Dylan O’Brien) when Scott is bitten by a werewolf. Across the 6 seasons, he accrues a Scooby gang, including former opponents human and supernatural — a point that is increasingly ridiculed by Price Peterson’s excellent photo recaps (which used to be on TV.com but are now on Yahoo!; ETA: this Tumblr post indexes them from the Internet Archive):

By the time-frame of these blog posts, it’s the final season I was watching. Unusually, after he had played as large a part in the previous 5 seasons as Scott, Stiles is largely absent in season 6, because they had to write around a frankly horrific accident that Dylan O’Brien experienced during the filming of Maze Runner: The Death Cure, which suspended filming of the third part of the YA action trilogy for a year, only days into shooting. This also means that Holland Roden’s Lydia — a wonderful combination of fucking genius masquerading as a popular airhead, much like the show tbh — is the only character other than Posey’s protagonist to make all 100 episodes.

The final season was also notable for seeing 2 members of the main cast each make their directorial débuts (Tyler Posey and Linden Ashby, who plays Stiles’s father, the sheriff of Beacon Hills). In addition, they also had some fan-favourite characters come back for the last back-half, including seeing out actors Colton Haynes and Charlie Carver play a couple and Tyler Hoechlin come back to reprise his 4-season lead character. Disappointingly, Keahu Kahuanui didn’t get to make it back, but we can’t have everything.

All 6 seasons of Teen Wolf are available on Netflix UK, with 3 seasons for sale on Amazon and iTunes. 6 seasons stream on Amazon Video US and Crave TV in Canada; all 6 are available to rent on most US and Canadian platforms.

Wynonna Earp (2016– )

Loosely based on a comic book series of the same name from Image and IDW, the show features Wyatt Earp’s great-grand-daughter, his immortal partner, a magic gun, a bunch of revenant demons and a secret branch of the US Marshals and the RCMP, all set in a cursed area of the Canadian Rockies. (Oh, and positive representation of queer characters.) Do you even need to know more?

It’s 20 years since Buffy and its influence is clear — here and elsewhere. Wynonna Earp is a worthy descendent. This isn’t Buffy, but similarities are clear and showrunner Emily Andras (who also produced scifi show Killjoys) is conscious of it being at least partly an homage:

The one thing that I strive to emulate from Buffy above everything else is that despite its camp factor and its low budget, it really was about something — about being a woman in the modern world and carving your path and making your own family. … I want to show that there is more than one type of woman in the world, and there is more than one type of a way for a woman to be a hero.

The first 2 seasons of Wynonna Earp are inclusive on Netflix or from £16·99 on Amazon; all 3 seasons are available on Google Play and iTunes from £13·99. In North America, the first 2 seasons are inclusive on Netflix, with the third on Syfy in the US; they can be bought from US$19.99 and C$17.99 apiece on various services.

Charmed (2018– )

The CW have remade Charmed and it’s naff but in a good way. The titular sisters are played by Melonie Diaz (Fruitvale Station), Madeleine Mantock (The Tomorrow People, Into the Badlands) and Sarah Jeffery (Wayward Pines, Rogue) with Harry, their White Lighter, played by Rupert Evans (The Palace, World Without End, The Man in the High Castle).

Charmed is on The CW, The CW Seed and Fandango Now in the US and iTunes in Canada. It is not available legally in the UK. At the time of writing, all but the last episode of a 10-episode series have aired in the US.

A Discovery of Witches (2018– )

Set in contemporary Oxford, A Discovery of Witches is based on the first book of the All Souls trilogy. In November 2018 Sky One ordered 2nd and 3rd seasons, so are presumably intending to adapt the whole trilogy.

Our protagonist is Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer), a tenured historian at Yale, studying alchemy and science at Oxford; her parents died when she was young and she was brought up by her lesbian aunts (Alex Kingston and Valarie Pettiford). When she accidentally calls up a bewitched — and hitherto concealed — manuscript with dangerous secrets about the 3 kinds of magical creatures (witches, vampires and demons), she becomes involved in the politicking of the magical world, which sees her forced to align with vampires against senior witch Knox (Owen Teale).

Somehow, it has been shortlisted for Best New Drama in the National Television Awards. It’s good fun, but it’s clearly not gonna win, not least because it’s up against Bodyguard and Killing Eve.

We watched on Now TV and it’s also available on Sky Go here or can be bought on iTunes and Amazon. It can be streamed on Shudder in Canada but is not legally available in the US.

Requiem (2018)

Lydia Wilson and Matilda Gray in Requiem

This BBC/Netflix co-production first caught my attention by virtue of being set in a fictional Welsh town called Penllynith and filmed in Dolgellau, where my mother’s from (and elsewhere in Wales). Our protagonist is a cellist “whose life is turned upside down following her mother’s suicide, which raises a number of questions about her identity and events in her past” and it ramps up the creepy pretty well across 6 one-hour episodes.

Requiem is inclusive on Netflix internationally and is also available to buy from other services in the UK.

Bright (2017 film)

On the other end of the intellectual spectrum is Bright. Netflix’s big Yuletide film for 2017 sees Will Smith play against a prosthetic-bound Joel Edgerton in a cop-buddy action drama set in an alternate universe, where orcs, elves, centaurs, fairies and other races co-exist with humans. They quickly stumble into a grand plot where dark elves are trying to resurrect The Dark Lord so he can conquer the world, kill billions and enslave the rest — normal fantasy-genre hyperbole stuff.

There’s plenty wrong with Bright — having a black actor say that “fairy lives don’t matter today” in the trailer is an indication of how adept the script is[n’t] at the underlying implication of “fantasy-race as human-race”; the world-building is pretty terrible, with fantasy races just dropped into a reality like ours, without them having changed the pattern of human development and inequalities in the slightest, somehow. But one review described the film as Lord of the Rings meets Lethal Weapon and that’s not a bad description — it’s bollocks, but quite a lot of fun so long as you don’t think about it too hard.

Reviewers hated it; it’s one of those films that has a huge disparity on Rotten Tomatoes, with 30% from 63 professional reviews and 89% from over 10,000 audience reviews. A particular gem is David Ehrlich’s review for IndieWire, which opens with:

There’s boring, there’s bad, and then there’s Bright, a movie so profoundly awful that Republicans will probably try to pass it into law over Christmas break. … The only thing more predictable than this high-concept police story is the idea that a year as punishing as 2017 would save the worst for last. At least The Emoji Movie owned up to the fact that it was just putting shit on screen; at least The Emoji Movie had the courtesy to dress it up in a bowtie.

In a note that is always going to pique my interest, we also hear and see elves and orcs using their own languages — created by David J Peterson who also created Dothraki and the Valyrian languages for Game of Thrones, with some great props created by the art department. While the world-building is just rubbish, the production design is really very good:

Bright is available globally on Netflix.

Images are used without permission for the purpose of criticism and review under section 30(1) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. This article’s text is dedicated to the public domain under the terms of the Creative Commons Zero licence. Please feel free to translate, copy, excerpt, share, disseminate and otherwise spread it far and wide. You don’t need to ask me, you don’t need to tell me. Just do it!

 by the author.

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Owen Blacker

Owen Blacker

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🇪🇺🏳️‍🌈🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿♿⧖ Mainly-gay, mainly-Welsh political geek; proud social justice warrior+trans ally. @WikiLGBT, @OpenRightsGroup, ex- @mySociety. he/him