An Editorial By John Camarena
The End of 2019 brought us some genuinely awesome entertainment of the sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book variety to our TV screens. We at the Geeks’ Watch podcast had some less than stellar viewing experiences early on; looking at you, Star Trek: Discovery, Electric Dreams, Carnival Row, and the last season of Game of Thrones! And while there were a few bright spots intermittently, it wasn’t looking like there would be much to look forward to. But thankfully I was proven way wrong. We ended up getting some of the best watching experiences of the year pretty much back to back just as it came to a close, and my faith in humanity has been restored! So let’s break it down and see what made these shows so great…
A sequel to the seminal classic by Alan Moore and Dave Gibson. My initial trepidation with this show was that it would have no involvement whatsoever by the writer/creator of the series. Moore famously cut ties with DC after he felt the company was just trying to commercialize his works and diminishing their value in the process, so he had zero involvement with the previous attempts to capitalize on the property, from the 2009 Zach Snyder movie to the prequel series Before Watchmen. The movie was good, not great, as it made some changes, some for better and some not so much, and the prequel comics had some interesting ideas but felt like fan fiction more than a part of the canon. Add to that, the show was going to be run by Damon Lindeloff, someone whom I had cursed to the heavens for ruining the script for Prometheus and making Lost feel like a meandering mess. But I was told The Leftovers was good so I gave it a shot. Right off the bat, the trailers didn’t seem that interesting. It looked confusing and a little silly with what looked like police wearing yellow masks, a brief shot of Night Owl’s airship Archimedes, or Archie for short, and a tease of Dr. Manhattan. This series was to be a sequel to the graphic novel, set in the present time some 34 years after the events in the story. Whatever, let’s see what it’s about. From the very beginning, this was not a show that was messing around. It begins during the Tulsa Massacre and continues in an unrelenting and uncompromising narrative about race relations, past transgressions on current generations, Redfordations, and moving forward. The true genius of this surprise hit is that it doesn’t attempt to rehash the plot points of the novel, but expound upon them. Miniscule details and mentions from the novel turn out to have surprising consequences. Questions set up 30+ years ago are answered, some in unexpected ways, and more than anything, the show provided us with a way to supplement the viewing experience with a collection of documents mirroring the world-building segments from the end of each issue of the original via the Peteypedia website. This show was deep, well thought out, and respectful of the source material. Three of the episodes in this singular season were three of the best hours of television watching in a good while, with some interesting story telling and cinematography. All the new characters were interesting and striking in their own right, definitely up to the standard set by the original. It didn’t deserve to be this good and yet here we are, wishing that Lindeloff will decide to come back for a second season. As it is now, this will probably be a stand-alone miniseries, but even so, it was satisfying with enough plot threads left over that should they decide to continue, I will be there waiting to devour it.
Now this show had a bit more expectation behind it. Being set about 5 years after the end of Return of the Jedi, a time period not yet explored in the new Disney continuity, we follow a Mandalorian bounty hunter just trying to be the best bounty hunter he can be. Within the Star Wars fandom, there are subsections devoted to this class of characters, with their cool armor and mysterious history, it felt like it was going to try to make both the fervent fans and more casual followers happy. Not a balancing act I’d like to tackle. But in the capable hands of Jon Favre, and with guests like Taika Waititi, Bill Burr, Clancy Brown, Ming Na-Wen, among others, this show turned out to be arguably better than the recent spate of movies in the Skywalker saga. And that’s not even touching on the incredible cultural impact that a certain baby has had. The Child, referred to by pretty much everyone as “baby Yoda”, has shifted the zeitgeist of what Star Wars can be. With the tone of a sci-fi western and a dash of Lone Wolf and Cub thrown in, The Mandalorian has become a runaway success and Disney cannot license baby Yoda merchandise fast enough to meet the demand. It’s a simple story, predictable even, but feels like such a breath of fresh air in a stale series that it, and the upcoming Clone Wars final season, may be the cure for the lackluster cinematic entries.
Now for the last show we watched just before the end of the year, The Witcher is not a series I was too familiar with. Outside of knowing it was a video game and book series, and some memes about taking a bath, I had no real anticipation for what this ended up being. The first trailer looked interesting, and to be honest, I was happy to see Henry Cavill in something after his absence from Shazam! hinted that he might no longer be involved in the DCEU. I love fantasy, magic, alchemy, monsters and swordfights, and this show looked like it was set to deliver all that, but I wasn’t truly sold until the first time Cavill’s Geralt of Rivia, when confronted by a group of angry villagers, realizes he’s going to have to fight his way through and kill them all. His exasperated “Fuck” was so well-delivered that I was hooked from that moment. All in all, I enjoyed this show more than I thought I would, even though I felt like I only understood what was going on maybe 75% of the time. Characters like Jaskier, the annoying bard that just grows on you, and the innocent-turned-power-hungry Yennefer, all have wonderful chemistry with our lead protagonist. Even long, drawn out scenes with crazy amounts of confusing plot elements, while obtuse, are never boring.
While 2019 was a dumpster fire of a year, it was great to finish it out with an explosion of good content. And if only 2 of these 3 shows continue to develop, that’s alright by me. We already got three good seasons and for the first time in a long time, I have hope for what’s to come.
An Editorial From Stephen Clark
Pop culture’s kids are trying to step out of their parent’s shadows with mixed results.
In the Streaming Wars™, using pre-existing intellectual property is the fastest shortcut to getting the viewer’s attention and that sweet, sweet subscription money. We’ve seen seemingly every big company launch or announce a streaming service and, with those services, come new shows featuring characters and worlds that we already know. While it’s great to get new things connected to what we already love, the response to two different tent-pole series has been mixed, to say the least.
One of the most potent examples of the reception to new series that use old IP can be seen in comparing ‘The Mandalorian’ on Disney+ and ‘Watchmen’ on HBO.
Mild spoilers ahead for the first few episodes of The Mandalorian and Watchmen
Shiny Man and Baby Yoda: The Series
When Disney+ was announced, we learned that a Mandalorian series was coming and it had an all star team behind it. The series would be utilizing a Boba Fett-like character of the Mandalorians proper, fan favorites from the expanded Star Wars universe of novels that Disney retconned when they acquired the Star Wars francise. After the first two episodes were released, fan response to the series was almost entirely positive, no small feat after the overwhelmingly negative response to ‘The Force Awakens’, ‘The Last Jedi’ and ‘Solo’. Casual and dedicated fans were enjoying it and Disney was cashing in on the love of an old franchise and bringing new fans into the fold.
‘The Mandalorian’ is a space western and the fans took to it. Now that we have five of the eight episodes in our watch histories, fan reception seems to have soured. In conversation with friends, the most stalwart Star Wars fan I know went from saying after episode 1 that “It feels like Star Wars again” to that his enjoyment has plateaued after episode 5 and that he wished more happened in the episodes. This is a common complaint among those watching the series. What started with so much potential and excitement has mellowed into mostly “Baby Yoda” memes, conversations about bad acting, or the lost opportunities in the biggest name actors being there for only one episode as bit characters.
Disney nailed the opening of the series, even succeeding in creating a cute character than fans all enjoyed (see Porgs, Jar Jar, and Ewoks for the failed past attempts) and didn’t even seem poised to cash in on Baby Yoda love with toys and other merchandise. But the last few episodes have a seemingly uphill struggle ahead of them.
Who Watches the Watchmen On HBO?
The flipside to this is the reception of ‘Watchmen’. After the airing of the first episode, we saw review bombing based off of the inclusion of racially charged historical events that some of the IMDB ratings would cite as being cheap pandering or virtue singaling. After each week and new episode, the show’s rating on IMDB has only gone up and fans have flocked to the depth of the series’ writing, with a whole website of supplementary materials for the most granular-minded fans to sift through and glean clues from.
Delving into deep topics and enlisting historical events to back up its story, the series is praised for being smart and a true addition to the ‘Watchmen’ brand, even picking up several Critic’s Choice Award nominations, with ‘The Mandalorian’ missing from the announced nominations entirely. The show has had a meteoric rise after its initial marketing had the people of the internet voicing their concerns about the masked police imagery that it featured.
Whether the two series will stick their landings is yet to be seen, but seeing them seemingly trade places in fan reception has been an interesting exercise in not judging a book by its cover and a possible lesson to the powers-that-be trying to cash in on IP with anything less than the best intentions.