So, last weekend was the Leeds Thoughtbubble Festival, and as with the previous couple of years I headed out and spent too much money on comics and tat. Actually I was little restrained this year, compared to previous years, but still didn't do too badly!
One of my big tension relievers recently has been playing Dungeon Defenders with friends. Like many of my games purchases this year it's an "indie" title, although has been a big success on iOS and Android before reaching the PC. It's a little like Sanctum, in so much as the basic concept is to "play" inside a Tower Defense game, building and upgrading towers in a build phase, and then running around in a combat phase fighting in support of them. But that's about where the similarity ends.
There is a thing that many people do, called "displacement activity". This is where you are worried about something, so you keep yourself busy doing something else, even when perhaps you should be applying yourself to the thing that is making you worried. I have an exam in about a week, the first exam I've done for a couple of years. By a complete and amazing co-incidence, I finished Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception last night.
When I was writing up my love for Fringe's third season, it struck me that there are whole seasons of
“essential” shows that you can probably safely skip, and I've been pondering on
it ever since. I've settled on five examples, and so here they are:
Fringe, Season 1
This is the example that set me off. At the start, Fringe is hardly a bad show, but it’s
not a great one, and the first season is a far cry from the mad science,
parallel worlds lunacy that the show grew up into. It does establish the
characters and broad setting, and I guess a more mundane start grounds the show
a little as it starts to spin off into ever more complex areas, but the joy of Fringe is that it is, by mid-second
season, so wholly just itself, its first season just feels too normal.
What you’d miss: “There’s More Than One of Everything”, the
series finale that really kicks off Fringe
Take That, Fun!
Buffy The Vampire
Slayer, Season 6
Buffy Summers dies at the end of Season 5, killing a god and
accepting her destiny as the Slayer. It’s a great ending to a great series, and
the series always seemed to struggle with continuing beyond that. There is
something brave in Season Six’s desire to “go dark”, with Buffy struggling with
her resurrection and the some heavy metaphorical stuff dealing with bad
relationships, drugs and other real world stuff. The problem is that Buffy
always did its best work by sliding around the tonal scale with a certain
abandon – flashes of darkness and real pain and flashes of levity and hope - and this season overloads itself in angst
and suffering and manages to be both depressing to watch, and in places just
What you’d miss: the cast having fun playing against type in
“Tabula Rasa” and the marvellously self-indulgent “Once More With Feeling”.
Doctor Who, Seasons 22
Yes, this is the whole of the Sixth Doctors tenure. It’s a
fashionable choice to knock Colin Baker but it’s apparent he’s a victim of the
confusion and BBC internal politics that took hold in Who’s production at that
time, and an already difficult sell – a dangerous and instable incarnation of
the Time Lord – is crippled by poor scripts, budget cuts and general behind the
scenes chaos. Many of these problems (and Bonnie Langford) are carried forward
into early Seventh Doctor stories, but Classic Who’s last hurrah shows marked
improvement over its run, so you’d be better off watching that.
What you’d miss: “Trial of a Time Lord” – an ambitious
season long story that completely falls flat; also fans of very stupid looking coats
should probably watch.
Babylon 5: Season 5
J. Michael Straczynski always said he had a five-year
plan for Babylon 5, and always struggled to get renewed season to season,
leaving fans with the constant fear they would never see a conclusion. But they
did – at the end of Season 4, hurried along after he was told he may not get
the fifth. But he did, and it’s a bit of an orphan child to the rest of the
series. Most notably, the big arcs were B5’s strong point, and with those
mostly gone the season felt like filler – especially a heavy-handed and clunky
Psykers plotline that dominates the early running. A bit like Fringe’s first season, it’s not terrible
by any stretch, but it displays very little of what made B5 worth watching in
the first place.
What you’d miss: “Sleeping in Light”, the Series proper finale.
Lost, Season 2
As you may have noticed, I loved me some Lost. It’s first season is fantastic – structurally innovative,
slick, directed storytelling that meshes great character work with a building
early mythology, but 3 or 4 episodes into season two I just stopped watching
it. So did a lot of people, apparently. A few years later I picked up the show
from the Season 3 and tore into it like I’d never been away; picking up the few
new characters with little difficulty and never feeling the loss of 20-odd
episodes I've never seen.
What you'd miss: I don’t know. I never watched it.
Herge's Tintin series is one of the staples of my youth, but one I've been happy to leave in the hazy recesses of my memory, and felt little need to revisit. I'm not sure why, either, I read them ferociously, even badgering my parents on a couple of occasions to head out to libraries further afield to see if there were books there that weren't in my local branch, but they've left me with a wellspring of affection for them but little compulsion to go back and own or even re-read them. So in some ways the fact that they've made a movie from them didn't fill me with excitement, just a vague interest more due to the talent involved in the adaptation than the fact of an adaptation itself. But this weekend I took our eldest to go see it as a reward for an excellent school report, without much in the way of strong opinion on what I was expecting.
The history of geek TV is often marked with the shows that fell to an early grave due to weak opening series or episodes that showed potential they never got to fulfill. There is even a marked number of successful, popular shows that have whole season or more before they establish what they want to be and become the shows they are remembered as - so many, in fact, that I'm tempted to try and compile a list of seasons you can flat out ignore from otherwise classic television. It often leaves a void - we know how good, say Babylon 5 became, but will never know what the rapidly improving Space: Above and Beyond could have turned out like if it had managed to endure.
The reason I'm thinking about this sort of thing is because have just completed a fairly intense run-through of the third season of Fringe, I'm amazed at how far it has come from it's beginnings. Fringe has never been a poor show, but in it's first season in particular it never quite seemed to gel. It was easy to view it as a clear descendant of The X-Files, substituting weird science for aliens, a fun, engaging sci-fi procedural show without any great pretensions to be much more. It's hard to imagine, from that start, another show that has evolved so fast into something so purely "itself" in such a short period of time.