In place of a much-discussed third X Files theatrical film, Fox decided to revive the show with a six episode miniseries that dives immediately back into the core alien abduction mythology. Chris Carter returns as executive producer and as one of the writers and directors of the new season. In addition to the irreplaceable Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson), the Season 10 miniseries brings back Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), The Smoking Man (William B. Davis), and Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish).

The X Files are back
The X Files are back

I didn’t watch much of The X Files in its original run from 1993 to 2002—I was more of a Buffy girl, back then. Nor did I watch either of the two big-screen X Files movies, or read the comics based on the show. However, such a cultural touchstone can’t really be ignored.

So I did watch The X Files intermittently online, when the mood would strike me. A couple of my favorites were the disgusting and legendary episode “Home” (S4;E2), about a severely inbred family who began keeping exclusively to themselves right after the Civil War, and the less legendary but still memorably creepy “Detour” (S5;E4), which uses the unlikely evolutionary adaptation of lost conquistadors to make its red-eyed monsters. These episodes gave me a certain fondness for Mulder, Scully, and their weird assignments, and gave me a rudimentary background in the show’s driving themes of alien invasion and shadow governments.

And now, The X Files is back and we all have another shot at believing that Mulder’s elusive truth really might be out there. This time, some of the ideas sound almost too familiar for comfort.

Episode 1 of the new mini-season, “My Struggle,” was written and directed by series creator Chris Carter and made its debut at New York ComicCon 2015.  With it, Carter again picked up the series’ mythology and brought it roaring back. There are UFOs in this episode, and lots of them. As Mulder tells us in the voice-over intro, “Only Roswell is remembered. But we must ask ourselves, are they really a hoax? Are we really alone? Or are we being lied to?” With that establishing idea, the episode proceeds to cut back and forth between a saucer crash in New Mexico in 1947 and the expanding paranoia of the present day.

XFiles2016
Mulder and Scully, together again

Fourteen years later, Gillian Anderson’s Scully is thinner, tired-looking, cool and still patrician. David Duchovny’s Mulder looks his age, weathered and ragged and drifting. But their chemistry is still there, a mutual concern made of expressions and glances more than any particular dialogue. It was good to see it.

To energize the familiar major characters from the original series, the new episode brings in Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale), a conspiracy theorist whose grand paranoia only serves to feed and magnify Mulder’s. Their pairing results in a huge, unifying conspiracy theory that incorporates the H-bomb as an unwitting beacon to UFOs, government cover-ups of alien technology, human experimentation resulting in human/alien hybrids, government created climate change, 911 false-flag accusations, and other, generalized anti-government conspiracies.

In addition to the modern conspiracy twists, the show digs deeply back into the classic iconography of alien abduction, with the added confounder that the X Files program itself was a lie to distract anyone from the truth. Mulder, who so wants to believe, is willing to believe that he and Scully were manipulated by the very program they devoted their energies to. The unifying theory only needs the “why” answered to prove it—and that quest will be plenty of fuel for a several-season-long fire.

The episode is very talky as it establishes itself after so long a hiatus. The exposition is heavy and somewhat melodramatic, rather than actually clumsy—it is technically well executed, but why, for example, is O’Malley explaining basic alien abduction information to Scully? And there is a dearth of action. What happens, happens in the last few minutes of the show in a burst of conspiratorial energy.

But Scully believes. Mulder believes. And the episode ends with Skinner calling them back in, because they are the only people prepared to face what is coming.

So, coming to the revival not as a die-hard fan but as a casual browser, I would have to say first episode of The X Files miniseries is intriguing and a welcome return. The writing is good, the cast is in its element, and the conspiracy theories are flying. I doubt six episodes are enough to cover all the possibilities suggested in the first one. But after this, I certainly wouldn’t say no to an eleventh season. Maybe it’s out there.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!

Some holiday specials are more special than others. Sure, we are all familiar with the big ones like A Christmas Story, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, maybe National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation… They’re classics, familiar and comforting. We can even count on series TV for a few good seasonal episodes.

But then there are those other holiday specials that are extra-special, the ones that are a little bit too far out there to win acceptance into mainstream tradition and that crop up rarely if at all. I love those. Overlooked, cheesy, or simply weird, they have their place at the table. Here is a small sample of my favorites, for your viewing pleasure.

A Cosmic Christmas Special
A Cosmic Christmas Special

Way back in 1977, the Canadian entertainment company Nelvana gave us a bit of awkward and inspired whimsy called A Cosmic Christmas. The animation is stylized, choppy, and repetitive. It wraps its seasonal message up in the adventures of a small boy, some fearful townspeople, a goose, and three space aliens standing in for the Three Wise Men. As far as I know, it was only broadcast a single time in the US—and lucky for me, I saw it. You can, too, on Youtube or Vimeo.

The Star Wars Holiday Special
The Star Wars Holiday Special

Which leads us to our next show, the legendary 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special. As Wookie-centric holiday themed space variety shows go, this was… really special. Bea Arthur made an appearance. There was juggling. Chewbacca’s son was named Lumpy. Lumpy! Nelvana was coincidently involved with this show as well, producing an animated segment that introduced the world to Boba Fett. The holiday special was broadcast only once before disappearing, but of course you can still watch it on Youtube.PeeweesPlayhouseChristmasSpecial

The 1988 Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special skipped over outer space in favor of straight-on odd. The Christmas Special was as a surreal holiday variety show that was completely faithful to the show that spawned it. The special featured appearances by (among many others) Cher, Grace Jones (whose performance here is making the online rounds lately), Oprah Winfrey, and Magic Johnson. The celebrities were sprinkled in among the usual wackiness of Pee-wee Herman’s world of talking chairs, genies, and robots. You can watch it in low-res on Youtube, or for better quality, snag it on Amazon.Opus_'n'_Bill_-_A_Wish_for_Wings_That_Work_DVD_cover

Last but not least, we have the 1991 Opus (literally), A Wish for Wings That Work, based on Berkley Breathed’s comic strip Bloom County. It features a penguin who wants to fly, ducks, a burnt-out alley cat, assorted neurotic children, and a support group for flightless waterfowl. And Santa. And wishes that come true. No aliens. No variety acts. Just a sarcastic and sincere holiday tribute to hope and friendship. It is of course on Youtube. Or, if you’re like me, you can get the book.

Now, I know I’ve missed a few, like The Simpsons, Pinky and the Brain, A Muppet Christmas Carol, even the multicultural Rugrats. Their holiday specials are also on the strange side, but they are also more firmly placed in mainstream series vehicles. The four specials I listed above are all way out there in their own unique ways—silly, smarmy, nonsensical, and snide. That’s what makes them my favorites. They’re like family—for all their flaws, it’s just not the holidays without them. So, happy watching, and happy holidays from Nerdgoblin!

 

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!

The Man in the High Castle, Amazon’s adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s 1962 novel, is an intriguing, well-plotted spy drama set in an incompletely subjugated America after the Axis victory in World War II. Germany and Japan share control of the continent, with continued mutual mistrust. A resistance exists under each government’s rule, one that hinges on the transportation of secret films that fuel the rebellion.

Between the Reich’s holdings on the East Coast and the Japanese Empire’s on the West is the Neutral Zone. It is effectively a no-man’s land that provides some safety for Blacks, homosexuals, and other social outcasts. Despite the pressure of the Reich and the Empire, it is apparently quite easy to travel to the neutral zone and back by a regular bus route.

America in The Man in the High Castle
America in The Man in the High Castle

There are a few spoilers ahead.

The Man in the High Castle’s cinematography is quite beautiful, with a muted palate like a faded old film print. The red of the Nazi flags is the brighter for it. There are some strikingly emotional moments, such as the ash falling like snow from the hospital that is burning “cripples, you know, a drag on the state” in episode 1, and the boom shot of mass graves in episode 7. One character leaves origami birds behind him, in a nod to producer Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

The plotting is tight, with nothing wasted even when the story takes its time unfolding. It is intrigue upon intrigue, delicate, building on the increasing tension between the Japanese and the Nazis. Like ripples expanding in a pool, the number of characters grows and the conspiracy expands. By episode 4, though, a main driver of the plot becomes Juliana’s search for answers to her sister’s death rather than the resistance itself.

The acting is as impeccable as the writing allows. The Man in the High Castle suffers at times from the rushed characterization of series television. Characters leap into rebellion or radicalism with little prelude to their sudden embrace of the cause. The exposition is occasionally clunky, as characters ask obvious questions and translate what they just said, effectively repeating themselves.

Secondary characters become more developed as the series goes on, while the primary characters actually become soapier. Juliana (Alexa Davalos) and Joe (Luke Kleintank), the young leads, are unfortunately underdeveloped as they are written. As a possibly wavering double agent, Joe’s moral ambivalence too often comes across as indecision.  And Juliana strikes me as too vacillating and selfish to be a hero. Her determination comes off as a sort of Nancy Drew pig-headedness. I’m surprised the resistance didn’t kill her for a loose cannon when she told them she will not sacrifice for the cause.

But there are a number of very strong scenes in the second half of the series that help add depth to what has gone before. One of the best is between an unctuous antiques dealer and a wealthy Japanese couple. The Japanese are attempting to embrace all aspects of American culture while the dealer rejects out of hand any Black and Jewish cultural contributions. Cultural appropriation is rampant on both sides. The awkwardness feels real.

By the last episode, both the Japanese and the Nazi players are more interesting and more important than the resistance characters. Again, much of it falls back on the script. The bad guys are allowed to display deeply moral decision-making processes and a willingness to shoulder their responsibilities in a way that is missing from the resistance characters. As Obergruppenführer John Smith, Rufus Sewell is a nuanced Nazi, believable as a father wrestling with the state-required death of his genetically diseased son and also as a military man who suspects he is being set up. And in particular, Trade Minister Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), Inspector Kido (Joel de la Fuente), and Officer Wegener (Carsten Norgaard) all display a sense of larger purpose, willing to sacrifice their honors and their lives for the sake of averting further war.

In my opinion, The Man in the High Castle is a flawed yet satisfying show. The cast and production are outstanding. There are many philosophical points to ponder among the plot twists, awkward romances, and action. The final scene left us hanging. This is well worth ten hours of your time, either in a binge or more moderately paced. Since I binged, I will have to read the source novel while waiting for season two. I’ll let you know how that goes.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!

We are now three episodes into Ash vs. Evil Dead, and I think it’s time to review where it’s been and see where it might be heading—because once is chance, twice coincidence, and three times is a pattern.

And Ash vs. Evil Dead’s pattern is emerging. Even if you haven’t seen it yet, I’m sure you’ve heard about it. Good things. Very good things. And they are all true.

Spoilers coming.

Our heroes in Ash vs. Evil Dead
Our heroes in Ash vs. Evil Dead

In a magnificent display of misguided machismo, Bruce Campbell chews all the scenery as our hero, Ash. His young, unevenly committed sidekicks are Ash’s coworkers. Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo), are much lower key but very funny. Their comic timing and delivery is spot-on.

The straight-man balancing all the comedy is Special Agent Amanda Fisher, played by Jill Marie Jones. She lost her partner to a deadite, and needs to figure out what happened. Rounding out the main cast is Lucy Lawless. As Ruby Knowby, she brings the mystery—who is she, and what does she know about the strange happenings?

Ash vs. Evil Dead is full of familiar camera tricks lifted from the movies, a fondness for antlers in set decoration, the maniacal giggle of the possessed doll that sounds like Ash’s long-dead girlfriend, and of course, Ash’s car.

The cheerfully awful CGI is a nod to the truly cheesy effects from the first movie. There are ridiculous amounts of gore and vats of blood splashed everywhere, and the one-liners are splattered as generously as the fake blood. There’s also classic Deep Purple on the soundtrack and three decapitations in the first twenty minutes of the premiere episode.

Episode 1 reintroduces Ash in all his glory, and establishes him as an unrepentant, ignorant, arrogant pig—because if he isn’t he can’t develop as a character and the show will quickly sputter out. He’s still a stockboy, he still parties too hard, and he’s still quite the pick-up artist. While trying to get lucky while stoned out of his gourd, he and his date read from the Necronomicon and set everything in motion. The epic battle in Ash’s trailer brings back the chainsaw and the boomstick and allows for buckets of blood to be splashed over everyone with much gusto.

A serious note is inserted into Ash vs. Evil Dead through Special Agent Amanda Fisher, who gets sucked into the mess Ash has made. Hints of her importance are dropped, with a deadite telling her “We know who you are”.

Episode 2 gets Ash, Pablo, and Kelly up and moving on the quest to get the Necronomicon translated in order to send the evil back to where it came from. This involves killing off their former boss, a side trip to kill Kelly’s deadite parents, and a decision to work as a trio.

Special Agent Fisher is still on Ash’s trail, now with a police sketch and a possible destination to help her.

In Episode 3, things are settling into the groove required for series television. Ash raises a demon, leaves chaos in his wake, learns to accept the help of Pablo and Kelly and embraces the idea of teamwork as “The Ghostbeaters” instead of being the “alone wolf.” In addition to the ongoing threat from the Necronomicon and the deadites, there is the mysterious pursuit by Lucy Lawless’s still-unidentified and convincingly bad-ass character, and the interference by Special Agent Fisher.

Starz played the original Evil Dead before launching Episode 3. It was refreshing to see Ash’s character as a noob, and a reminder that he’s changed just a little since then.

The only thing I was leery of in the first episode was the show’s ability to balance the silly with the scary. But the serious tone of Fisher’s story line actually, so far, works out well. It is being integrated in a way that makes the comedic characters more human and will give the grim Officer Fisher a chance to have a sense of humor. That will give the premise some fresh meat to chew on and keep Ash vs. Evil Dead from being entirely cartoonish. And I have the feeling Ruby will turn out to be Ash’s worst nightmare, either as another force of evil or the most righteous avenger he’s ever seen.

I know I’m looking forward to Episode 4, and 5, and 6….

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!

Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality. But… there is, unseen by most, an underworld, a place that is just as real, but not as brightly lit… a darkside.

October brings the chills, be they weather or words. Tales From the Darkside, a spooky anthology series created by George A. Romero as an offshoot of his horror anthology film Creepshow started appropriately enough on October 29, 1983. Romero put aside his zombies long enough to write the pilot episode, titled “Trick or Treat”.  From that promising start Tales From the Darkside went on to bring its own distinctive set of chills to ninety episodes over four seasons.

Tales From the Darkside, in first-run syndication from 1983-1988, was part of a great eighties revival of horror/weird anthology TV (some others were Monsters, Tales From the Crypt, Amazing Stories, and Tales of the Unexpected). The format lent itself to clever, twisted half-hour stories made on the cheap with low-tech special effects and great enthusiasm.

Tales From the Darkside--Trick or Treat!
Tales From the Darkside–Trick or Treat!

Romero’s pilot episode, “Trick or Treat”, was a morality tale that set the tone for the series. It is about a wealthy man who lends his money in exchange for IOUs and a chance to terrify the debtors’ children. Parents will be absolved of their debt if their children can find the IOU in the man’s monstrous Halloween haunted house. Then the real demons show up, and turn the tables on him.

In addition to being the executive producer, Romero wrote three more episodes for the series. He also invested in a wide range of other talent to keep the spirits high. Notable horror and science fiction authors who contributed screenplays or had their stories adapted for Tales From the Darkside episodes include Stephen King, Harlan Ellison, Michael Kube-McDowell (the Star Wars Black Fleet Crisis series), David Gerrold (“The Trouble With Tribbles”), Joseph Payne Brennan, Pamela Sargent, Frederick Pohl, Charles L. Grant, Robert Bloch (Psycho), Thomas F. Monteleone, Michael Bishop, and Clive Barker.

I watched this show religiously late on Saturday nights, scaring myself with anticipation as much as being scared by the stories. My two favorite episodes from Tales From the Darkside are:

From Season 1, “Levitation”, a moody piece based on the quietly frightening Joseph Payne Brennan story of the same name (and worth reading here). In it, a carnival demonstration of hypnotism and levitation goes terribly wrong when the magician dies in mid-act.

Tales From the Darkside--Halloween Candy
Tales From the Darkside–Halloween Candy

And from Season 2, “Halloween Candy”, a grotesque story of Halloween vengeance. A nasty old man, purposely cruel to trick-or-treaters, draws the attention of a small demon that terrorizes him until he dies of it. This is the episode I think of every year as Halloween rolls around.

Tales From the Darkside: The Movie was released in 1990. It continued the anthology tradition, and was able to ramp up the gore with better special effects. While Romero did not direct it, he contributed a screenplay based on Stephen King’s story, “The Cat From Hell”.

Talk of a series reboot has been drifting around for the past few years, but has never gained traction. The CW has most recently decided not to pursue it. A variety of cable networks are supposedly interested, but nothing has been confirmed. One can hope, or one can simply enjoy the scary treat that is the original Tales From the Darkside.

The darkside is always there, waiting for us to enter – waiting to enter us. Until next time, try to enjoy the daylight.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter and Pinterest, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!

New York ComicCon 2015
New York ComicCon 2015

As Bill mentioned in the latest Nerdgoblin podcast , a few of us made a trip out to the 10th New York ComicCon this past Thursday. Now, the last con I attended featured bootlegged copies of Heavy Metal and Rocky Horror on VHS. It’s been awhile. Things have changed. Cons have gotten bigger, brighter, and more popular, and the NYCC is one of the biggest.

I dislike large crowds, so why not jump back in with the NYCC? I tagged along to take in as much of the sensory overload as I could process while our fearless leader worked hard documenting the event. Armed with some random advice from a few young veterans (The food is expensive and terrible! You’ll have to wait on line to get wristbands to buy ComicCon exclusives!), I waded into the fray.

As a fan without a specific focus, I did my best to show up with few preconceived expectations and a willingness to learn what the NYCC is all about. I had no real plan of attack, just a few events of interest I had made note of. I went on the lightest day for attendance, got there nice and early, and was pleased to find the line to enter moving quickly. Competent, friendly staff helped considerably. And by noon, the venue was packed.

NYCC Big characters, big crowds
NYCC Big characters, big crowds

There was an excellent vibe for a space that full of people. In spite of the omnipresent warnings that cosplay is not consent and a list of what constitutes harassment, the NYCC felt very safe. Everyone seemed to be happy to be there, united in a common cause.

Let’s face it. The con would not exist without the cosplay. The crowd was filled with multiple iterations of the Joker and Harley Quinn, Deadpool and Daenerys.  But some of the more memorable costumes I saw there were singularities. There was a gent dressed as multiple Johnny Depp characters (Jack Sparrow’s bandana, Tonto’s crow, Edward Scissorhand’s scissors, Willie Wonka’s coat, Hunter Thompson’s sunglasses…), the Weeping Angel, Cruella deVille, the Bride, Aquaman, and a two-year old Hulk complete with giant fists.

Since my planning was minimal, I spent the morning on the vendor floor and the afternoon in Empire Stage panels.

The vendor floor was huge. I was told to get swag, but was too overwhelmed by the sheer amount of swag available to make any rational decision about it. All I bought was a new set of dice (they are beautiful—marbled red with gold numbers). I took a few pictures, soaked up the atmosphere, and had a fantastically great time looking around. Then, on to the panels!

NYCC WoW booth
NYCC WoW booth

The Star Wars Rebels panel was the most professionally run of the three I saw, and served as a lead-in for the season two sneak previews later in the evening. The panelists were all pleasant and open, but Sarah Michelle Gellar was exceptional—warm, modest, and happy to be there for the fans.

The Walking Dead panel was a misfire. The only panelist to show up was Robert Kirkman (perhaps the promised other Special Guests were eaten on the way over?), and he was sorely lacking in the warmth and charm departments. But the room was packed, and we got a look at the cover art for issue #150 before Friday’s special screening of the show’s 6th season opener in Madison Square Garden.

The last, most anticipated, and most disappointing panel I stayed for was the Game of Thrones: Panel of Ice and Fire. The only complaints and dissatisfaction I heard from any fans was here, because of the mishandling of the audience. The participants were on point, and the panel started exactly on time, yet the waiting crowd was not let in until it had already begun. And unlike the earlier panels, staff was not available to make sure all the seats were filled—so there were empty seats scattered throughout and a mass of fans left standing at the back. The panelists were terrific, though. Natalie Dormer was sharp and witty even though she had spent the day doing photos and autographs. Keisha Castle-Hughes came across as very sweet, and Finn Jones seemed to be having a good time. Fan Q & A quickly devolved into variations on “So, if you could bring back one dead character…?”, but the three actors gave all the questions a fair shot.

NYCC Heading Home
NYCC Heading Home

There was still a night full of panels and screenings ahead, but I chose to head out while I was still coherent. There was so much to process. Even though I was ready to go I regretted not being able to come back the next day. I missed more than I saw, and I had enough of a taste to want more.

As to the things I learned about attending the NYCC (which fit with what A.J. Hernandez learned here ):

  • There are lots of giveaway items available from the big vendors.
  • If I had talked to more people there, I would have gotten more pics and free swag.
  • The Javits Center knows what it’s doing.
  • I won’t pack so much food and other stuff–it gets heavy quickly.
  • I need to allow at least two days for the con. There’s too much just to see, never mind the panels.

I inadvertently skipped Artists’ Alley entirely (and Danielle Frazetta with it), and only gave a cursory glance to the book vendors and authors (I know, I know). There was not enough time to hit any of the off-site offerings, either. And never mind the weekend events.

So, next year, I’m going back with a better game plan, some experience—and in costume. See you there!

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!