Wednesday, May 31, 2023

One And Done

Here's a new idea for a feature: TV shows I didn't watch. Or, to be precise, TV shows I watched one episode then stopped. Not sure it has legs but I've got enough for one post so let's go!

The Rings of Power 

Might as well start with the big one. I ought to say up front that I'm no Tolkein fan. I'm old enough to remember when he was generally thought of either as "that guy hippies used to read in the sixties" or a somewhat dated children's author. 

We had Lord of the Rings in the school library when I was just entering my teens but no-one really talked about or read it much. I gave it a go when I was about thirteen or fourteen and got halfway through before giving up. It started off okay but it got very slow and boring in the middle. By the time I went to university I'd read the whole thing and I've read it twice since, once getting all the way through for the second time and once, again, abandoning it out of boredom somewhere in the middle.

I watched the Ralph Bakshi animated version in the cinema on release and enjoyed it but that was mainly because I've been a lifelong fan of animation and cartoons, not because it was Lord of the Rings. I saw the three Peter Jackson movies on release and enjoyed the epic sweep but I never felt the need to watch any of them again. I've played Lord of the Rings Online on and off for many years but because it's a comfortable tab-target mmorpg, not because it's set in Middle Earth.

In essence, I feel like the best thing about Tolkein in general and Lord of the Rings in particular is that they helped to create a space for other writers to explore. I respect his influence but I don't necessarily believe he's the epitome of the genre he inspired. 

Given that background, I ought to have been squarely in the target market for Amazon's populist updating of the franchise: enough familiarity with the IP to be interested in trying it but enough emotional distance not to get riled up by the liberties being taken with the great master's vision. And I was quite looking forward to it.

Unfortunately, the first episode was bland as all get out and duller even than the dull patches in the books. It also had a lot of extremely annoying Actors with a capital A doing Accents with another capital A, something that works on me like nails down a whiteboard. I got to the end of Episode One and told myself I'd get back to it later but I never did. 

As things stand, I probably never will. Maybe it gets better, as some people have assured me it does, but it would need to get a whole hell of a lot better to be worth the bother and no-one's claiming that.


Looks as if we're going to be doing this both in declining order of hype and by platform. It's as good a way as any. Swarm is another of Amazon Prime's big ticket events, one that I'd heard plenty about well before the first episode landed. It kept cropping up in news items on my music feeds because one of the two co-creators is Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino aka that guy out of Community.

Having a noted hip-hop star at the helm isn't the only thing about Swarm that caught the attention of the music press. It most probably wasn't even the main thing. The real reason there were so many posts and articles about the show leading up to the launch was the subject matter. 

Swarm is a very thinly-veiled take on the cult of personality that surrounds one of the biggest stars in the world, Beyonce. The central character, Andrea, obsesses over pop star Ni'Jah, an obsession she shares with an online fandom known as The Swarm. With Beyonce's real-world fanbase being known as the Bey Hive, the clef to this roman is peeping right out from under the doormat.

Beyonce is on my fairly long list of acts I really ought to know more about. She's in that pool of performers I respect but I don't yet know if I like because I haven't gotten around to listening to them all that much. For that reason, any nuanced light and shade playing across the fiction-reality hinterland would have been lost on me.

All I saw in the first episode was a well-made, well-acted, well-filmed, well-written horror story. I appreciated it but I'm not usually in the mood for psychological horror right before I go to sleep, which is when I watch all my TV. Even less for bludgeoning violence. The scene where Andrea batters a man to death with a vase didn't do much to help me get to sleep that night, which was the main reason I didn't watch the second episode the night after or any night since.

Unlike Rings of Power, this is a show I do plan on watching more of - just not at bedtime. I'll save it for when I'm ready to watch something during the daylight hours.


Citadel, the show Amazon seems to be pushing hardest right now, is waaaay more violent than Swarm but that's not why I stopped watching after the first episode. Countless people get shot or blown up or stabbed in Episode One but it's pure cartoon violence. I don't think you even see any blood spilled. 

That's only to be expected. It's a "spy action" show (That's a genre now?) executive-produced by the Russo Brothers, best-known for their work with the MCU and it absolutely plays like a super-hero movie. No-one's here for the gore. It's all about the explosions.

It's also supposedly one of the most expensive TV shows ever made and based on the one episode I watched, all that money ended up on screen. It's fast, slick, brash and thrilling so why am I not watching it any more?

It's bloody stupid, that's why. Or the first episode is, anyway. I fancy myself to have an exceptionally high tolerance for plots that make no sense and characters who don't act like human beings but even I have my limits. 

In the first episode you're expected to believe that a secret society of super-spies with global reach has existed for decades, controlling the political direction of nations and making course-corrections in the name of public good by way of assassination and mayhem. Pretty tough ask, right?

Then you're asked to believe that in a matter of hours that entire global organization has been wiped out by the trans-national forces of governance literally to a man, that one spy left standing being Stanley Tucci. Oh, and also the two leading characters in the series, who it's now revealed also miraculously somehow survived the otherwise entirely successful purge.

Seriously, I can suspend my disbelief over some pretty deep ravines of nonsense and have done but this is a suspension bridge too far. I literally couldn't bring myself to care enough about the insane plot to click on Play for Episode 2. I'm not saying I'll never pick Citadel up again but I'd have to be pretty damn short of better things to watch.

So much for live action, Amazon Prime and hype. On to Netflix, where all three shows are small-scale animations no-one's talking about.

Kitti Katz

Here's the pitch: "Three teenage girls transform into fierce feline superheroes to save the world from an evil Egyptian goddess and still have time for soccer practice." Come on! You want to watch that. Don't pretend you don't.

Well, I did. And I liked it. It's fast, flashy, funny and light-hearted. It's also incredibly throwaway, which is the problem.

The digital animation isn't great, which doesn't help. Movement seems off, somehow, especially in the fight scenes, which I found distracting. The real problem, though, was the characterization of the three leads, Tabs, Kia and Zami. Not only did they not establish themselves strongly enough in the first episode to make me feel I wanted to see where they went next but the whole thing moved much too quickly from the set-up to the pay-off in a way I found both confusing and unsatisfying.

It's a fundemental problem with shows of this kind. Something otherworldly happens to turn an otherwise ordinary tween or teen into a superhero or they discover that magic is real or that aliens exist on Earth but instead of taking time to assimilate the existential experience, in order to hold the attention of a target audience assumed to have an attention span measured in microseconds, events that ought to take days or weeks to come to terms with come to be accepted as the new normal with nothing more than a couple of quick one-liners and a wry expression.

How that kind of life-changing event is handled is often key to whether I carry on with a show of this type or not. The better shows, like Supernatural Academy or Guillermo del Toro's Tales of Arcadia trilogy, treat the transition from reality to fantasy as an opportunity to demonstrate character growth and as a major plot point. It can take a whole season or even more for the leads to come to terms with the situations in which they find themselves.

With Kitti Katz, being turned first into tiny kittens and then catgirl superheroines is just another day in the schoolyard and if they're not really amazed by what's happening to them then why should I be, either? I might watch some more of their adventures some time but chances are I won't. There are too many better choices when it comes to animated series and only so much time.


Sharkdog is by some way the youngest-playing show on this list. It looks like it's aimed at six-to-eight year-olds but it would work well for younger kids, too. The premise is the elevator pitch to shame all elevator pitches: what if someone crossed a shark with a dog and you had it for a pet? And that's it.

Absolutely nothing is explained in the first episode. How Sharkdog exists, for example. How he swims through earth. How he breathes air and water (And quite possibly soil.) Why he acts like a dog when his head and therefore, presumably his brain, is so clearly that of his shark half, not his dog half. 

There was clearly no point whatsoever asking any of these or the other ten million questions that flooded my mind as I watched that first episode. Not only was nothing ever going to be explained, nothing needed to be explained. It's the simple tale of a boy and his sharkdog, What more do you need to know?

Sharkdog is well-animated and pretty funny in places but I'm not six any more. It was never going to hold my attention. That's not to say I'll never watch it again but I'm not going to be working through the whole three seasons or even the rest of Season One, even if  it does have an absolutely stellar rating on Rotten Tomatos - 100%. 

Of course, that's just from a single review. Someone out there really likes Sharkdog.

Neo Yokio

And finally, Neo Yokio. This is an odd one. Ostensibly it's an anime but from the moment I started watching, something about it felt slightly off. It had a weird, almost nihilistic edge to it that I found unsettling. I kind of liked it but it made me nervous.

When the credits rolled I spotted a familiar name. One I recognized but couldn't place. So I went to Google and looked it up. The show was created by Ezra Koenig and it turns out the reason I recognized his name is that he's the lead singer of Vampire Weekend.

Vampire Weekend, for anyone who doesn't know, are a very successful rock band out of New York City. They are, indeed, one of the most New York of bands, which ought to put them squarely in my wheelhouese, except I've never really taken to them all that much. I don't not like them; I just don't like like them. 

What I do like like is the idea of the songwriter from a quintessential New York band creating an alternate-world version of the city and turning it into a cartoon. That is definitely cool. The show itself, however, at least in the one episode I've seen, comes across not so much cool as cold.

The world-building is interesting, for sure. There's a whole lot going on in that first episode that I very much want to know more about. The problem for me was the tone. The set-up has lead character Kaz wallowing in self-pity after a break-up with his girlfriend, who has, in a telling twist, moved to LA to further her career as an investment banker. 

I didn't warm to Kaz and when you don't find an affinity with the protagonist it can be a deal-breaker. It's clear that he's supposed to be sad and depressed and suffering from existential ennui, so you're expected to cut him plenty of slack, but honestly he just came across a spoiled, rich dickhead much of the time. It's like they were reaching for Jay McInerney but they landed on Brett Easton Ellis.

This is one show I'm pretty sure I'll come back to, in time. It didn't catch me in quite the right mood but it obviously has huge potential and I'm sure Kaz will experience some solid character growth to pull him out of his over-priveliged funk. 

It's not a big commitment, anyway. There's only one season and it's only six episodes (Plus a special.). I'll get to it when I get to it. It'll wait.

And that's it for now. There are plenty of other shows I've only watched one episode of but most of them I can't even recall enough about to say why I stopped. This probably isn't going to make much of a feature after all.

Just the one episode, in fact. How appropriate. You'd think I'd planned it that way...


  1. I have thought about doing an unfinished series post from time to time. Citadel would be on the list, as even Stanley Tucci cannot carry its weight. The downside is that I can barely remember all the ones we have watched, so the unfinished ones tend to fade from memory... though I guess Netflix or whoever is always there to ask if I want to continue watching.

    1. The post came about mostly because I happened to notice I'd started and abandoned a bunch of shows in quick succession and I could actually remember why I'd done it. I could have added a few more titles but when I looked at them in my "Continue Watching" panels I couldn't remember a thing about them.

  2. "The better shows, like Supernatural Academy or Guillermo del Toro's Tales of Arcadia trilogy, treat the transition from reality to fantasy as an opportunity to demonstrate character growth and as a major plot point."

    Warrior Nun did this. Roughly half the first season is just the main character coming to terms with her newfound superpowers -- though for her the indestructibility and walking through walls are almost secondary to being able to get out of bed for the first time since she was a child.

    It got a real drubbing in the media for doing this -- a lot of people felt it was too slow or downright boring -- but I thought it was a great decision. It got me invested in the protagonist in a way most shows never accomplish.

    1. I must get around to watching Warrior Nun. It's the title that puts me off.

      The show I always think of that took the "coming to terms with our powers" motif to ridiculous extrmes is Cloak and Dagger. They literally spent two whole seasons realizing they had abilities that could make them into superheroes and by the time they'd finally worked it out the show got cancelled so we never got to see them actually do it!

    2. The title sucks, no question. I almost didn't give it a try myself for that reason, but I'm a big fan of the showrunner, Simon Barry, so I figured it was worth a shot, and it turned out far better than its goofy title would ever lend one to expect.

    3. I enjoyed that aspect of Warrior Nun myself and was annoyed at so many media articles against it. I have had enough of shows where the main characters recover from this type of thing in five minutes.
      I am also entirely on board with the huge suspension of disbelief needed for Citadel. I made it halfway due to being couch bound that day but is certainly a super hero action movie extended to a streaming series. I may finish but as you mentioned, there is always something more interesting to watch so who knows.

  3. Beyonce is one of those acts that are supposedly so influential yet I've personally heard so little of. I think there's Single Ladies and Run the World (Girls) but that's it. I'm sure that some people will say that my lack of interest in Beyonce is some sort of vendetta (or worse) against her, but I feel the exact same way about Garth Brooks, so...

    Even I knew what Swarm was going to be about when I saw the ads on YouTube and other places. I'm actually surprised that I've not heard about any blowback from B's fans about this, but again I'm not plugged into TikTok or Twitter either. It's just something I'm not interested in watching, just like (to continue with the Garth Brooks similarity) I'm not going to go to a Country music concert.

    As for The Rings of Power, again it doesn't interest me. I know that the Tolkien Estate are being pricks about access to the rest of JRR's content beyond The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but that's their right I guess. The result is The Rings of Power, which has the outrage machine cranking into overtime, no matter if it's any good or not. The swarms of rabid Tolkien fanatics (nod to the Bey-Hive again) are giving that show more legs than it has any rights to, but oh well. Sometimes those people behaving like ninnies backfires spectacularly.

    1. I put most of my ignorance of mainstream contemporary pop down to the absence of music radio in my life. It used to drip-feed me everything whether I wanted it or not but when I retuned the station to speech - and later to rock/indie/arthouse music channels, when they appeared - I was cast adrift from the mainstream. Even now, when I'm making much more of an effort to keep up, it's mainstream pop that just passes me by, ironically.

      Of course, Beyonce is far more than that but the point is that in the beforetimes i wouldn't have needed to make an effort to hear her pretty much all the time. I wouldn't have had any choice. Now I do and look where it's gettign me! Sometimes being able to choose means missing out as much as it means geting what you want.

  4. I liked Swarm a lot. I know nothing about Beyonce except for the name, so it was a blank canvas experience in terms of background. The series doesn't follow any genre or narrative canon, and every next episode is unique and unexpected in this or that way, that's a rare thing nowadays. And there's Billie Eilish in one of the episodes, that was some fantastic lead performance - I hope she explores some acting career in addition to music.

    1. Okay, now I'm definitely going to carry on with it! I was, anyway, but you've really sold it there.


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