My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

Surprisingly good television these days

Should I be posting a knitting update? Probably. But I wanted to tweet some thoughts about The Magicians, and Orphan Black, and Supergirl, until I realized I should really just expand them into a summary of my thoughts about television shows! So this is a round up of some (not all) of the TV shows I’ve been watching regularly over the past few months.

Magic Sucks and You Suck Even More, Quentin

I didn’t really enjoy The Magicians in book form. The books are clever in a postmodern, hipsterish way—almost too clever. I get why other people like them, but they weren’t really for me.

So I’m surprised to say that I very much enjoyed the first season of the TV show! In part, it’s because the plot has deviated in interesting ways from the books: the broad strokes are there, with most of the major events intact, but they have been altered for the pacing and atmosphere of the visual, episodic medium. I find the whole art behind adaptations fascinating, and I’m always pleased when writers manage to adapt a book for TV or movies by remaining true to the themes and spirit of the story even if it means altering some of the narrative itself.

I love hating on Quentin, who is really the worst. But in general the actors in this show just do a great job of conveying the series’ whole premise, which is that magic is not some wonderful skill that makes the world a more wonderful place. If you’re messed up without magic, you’ll be just as, if not more, messed up with magic. And in some ways, the show is doing an even better job deconstructing and subverting these ideas than the books did.

My one complaint is that, in Canada at least, Showcase censors “fuck” but doesn’t censor “shit” (which just seems wildly inconsistent). I know this is not really Showcase’s fault, even, but likely weird censorship rules from the CRTC. It’s just annoying, though, because you can clearly tell what word they are saying, and it’s not like our little brains are going to explode if we hear profanity. Plus, in one episode they depict someone literally choking another person until their head explodes (we don’t see the explosion, but we do see the murderer covered in TV gore)—said murderer earlier in the episode killed a rabbit, which we do see onscreen. Oh, and there’s more gore and rape in the finale. Because that’s fine to show on TV, but if someone drops an F-bomb, we gotta think of the children.

Supergirl is the Best Kryptonian

I admit I find Superman kind of blah. I mean, he is cool from the perspective of a six-year-old who makes up a hero who can literally do everything, and obviously Superman has a massive place in the history of comic books and superhero characters. He is literally a Mary Sue, though. Unfortunately, arguably the worst depictions of Superman are the ones where writers try too hard to dampen his power and ability but fail miserably at it.

I didn’t pay too much attention to the hype around the show prior to its premiere, especially because I haven’t been following the DC shows on the CW. And I still have scars from Smallville. Nevertheless, I checked out Supergirl … and I’m so happy I did.

Melissa Benoist and her fellow cast members are amazing. This show is amazing. It is funny and fun and compassionate, yet it deals with really serious themes. We are certainly living in a golden age for superhero adaptations on both the big and silver screens. The FX technology at the point where everything, even on a TV-budget show like this, looks pretty good. And, culturally, we’re in this weird place where we can tell stories that are both optimistic and dark—like, I’m not down with the grim-Superman peddled by Zack Snyder, but if that is your flavour of the week, all the more power to you.

I’ll stick with Supergirl and it’s incredibly feminist (for a mainstream TV show!) vibe. Cat Grant and her conversations, both with Kara and Supergirl, are the best part of this show. Plus, the fact that there are so many women characters allows them to be diverse and even to disagree, because they can be people instead of having to represent the token woman’s perspective. While there have been a number of clunky episodes, and even the best episodes suffer from some issues of pacing and dialogue, by and large the development of the characters and the overarching story is impressive. This show has been better than Smallville from Day 1, and it will remain that way. I cannot wait for Season 2!

Speaking of Feminism, That Clone Thing is Back

Orphan Black is one of the best TV shows to grace us with its presence in the past few years, and it is back for season 4. I watched the premiere last night: a lengthy flashback episode that some might call indulgent but felt like a good palate-cleanser. It filled in some blanks on how the clones interacted with Beth, and in particular, showed us what led to Beth shooting Maggie Chen.

This is a show that has never failed to raise the stakes and hit us with incredible revelations throughout the season. Tatiana Maslany remains untouchable: her acting and depth in portraying so many different characters is simply unparalleled, and the fact she hasn’t won an Emmy for it just shows how irrelevant such award shows have become.

I can’t say too much about the show, because we are just at the beginning of the season, but I have high hopes for it!

Supernatural is the Energizer Bunny of Television

I’m kind of at the point with Supernatural that I was with Stargate SG-1: this show has been going on way too long, but I never want it to stop. Season 8 of Stargate was just silly, and while Seasons 9 and 10 attempted to refresh/reboot the show to some extent, they didn’t quite succeed. As with Stargate, though, hokey or “bad” Supernatural is still superior to most other good shows out there.

It’s looking like the show is returning for not one, but two more seasons. That is kind of insane but also excellent.

I rather liked the previous season and its exploration of Dean living with the Mark of Cain. The twist at the end, and the release of the Darkness, was … boring. I mean, “the Darkness”? That is a dumb and generic name for a villain if ever I’ve heard one. Season 11 has picked up, though, mostly because of the way the writers haven’t been afraid to change up the dynamics between the characters. “Casifer” is the best thing to happen to the show in a few seasons.

Still, how well the next two seasons go depends largely on where the writers try to go with the mythology. I say that because the linchpin of this show has always been the brothers and their relationship—but on that front, the writers have always been solid. I don’t have any worries about that: Sam and Dean will continue BMing it up in the Impala, sacrificing themselves to save each other, etc. What remains to be seen is how well the writers can furnish them with intriguing problems while they do that.

Where do you go when you have squared off against God’s sister? Well, I can see a few possibilities. We’ll just have to find out.

Honourable Mentions

And honourable mentions go to a few shows, some of which are in reruns.

I like Hell’s Kitchen despite it being terrible: I just like watching Gordon Ramsay yell at people clearly selected because of how good they are at creating drama and responding to directors’ cues.

I’m slowly making my way through Charmed season 8 on Netflix. I’m trying to savour it, even if wiki says it wasn’t very good, because it’s the last “new” stuff (unless they actually do revive it, and I’m not sure how I feel about that). I am enjoying Kaley Cuoco’s pre–The Big Bang Theory appearance in this season! When I am finished, I might go back and just rewatch seasons 1 to 3 forever—because Prue.

Similarly, Netflix is awesome for having Poirot on it. I put an episode on if I have some time in the morning on Saturday or Sunday, and I have a nice breakfast and cup of tea. Such a good show.

I watch most of the TV shows I mentioned above (as well as others I didn’t) with my dad, one or two hours in the evening. I’m not watching a lot of TV on my own time—I use that for reading or knitting. When I’m doing the latter, or playing some Elite: Dangerous, I usually cast a Twitch stream to my television—if it’s Monday, very often Bob Ross; otherwise, LoadingReadyRun or DeejayKnight. Twitch streams are great because I can pay attention and interact in the chat if I want or they can just be background noise. I tend not to do TV as background noise these days, because if I put a show on, it’s because I want to pay attention to it.

So that’s me and TV right now!