TO HELL WITH HEROES

August 25, 2015 – 5:00 am

Will leaked pilot TV shows be the new norm? Stephen Tan checks out Fox’s Lucifer and Star Trek: Renegades, the former coming to your TV screen in 2016 and, for the latter, last heard, it’s still up in the air.

Are torrent leaks the new way for TV studios to test their new shows? Earlier in August 2015, the pilots for Lucifer (Fox), Minority Report (Fox) and Blindspot (NBC) were leaked on the net. In May 2015, the pilot for Supergirl was leaked six months early before it was scheduled to air. Executive produced by Steven Spielberg, Minority Report proved to be popular among downloaders.

But it is Lucifer that really gets the mouth watering. Based on a comic-book series on a character created by Neil (Sandman) Gaiman, Lucifer, “who is bored and unhappy as the Lord of Hell, resigns his throne and abandons his kingdom for the beauty of Los Angeles, where he gets his kicks helping the LAPD punish criminals.”

For a start, thank God that the filmmakers have deigned it fit that viewers nowadays are more grown-up and can stomach such a pick-up line: “I could swear I’ve seen you naked. Have we had sex?” To which the woman replies: “Right, right. You’ve seen my boobies. It’s exciting. What are you, 12?” Or how about when Lucifer is caught trying to hit on his therapist (okay, we’re getting ahead of ourselves there): “Are you seriously talking about having sex with her, right now?” Lucifer quips: “Well, it won’t take long,” only to have said therapist to add: “I do yoga… I’m freakishly flexible.”

As mentioned, Lucifer - Lucifer Morningstar to be precise, is taking a sabbathical, actually, it’s more like calling it quits as the head honcho of hell. On one side, there is the angel Amenadiel who is trying to convince Lucifer to go back to hell. But Lucifer is having too much fun in LA, running his Lux club, and especially when he meets up with detective Chloe Dancer after watching singer Delilah killed in front of him.

Into this mix is LA, drugs, music showbiz and the unlikely record producer by the name of Jimmy Barnes (one can imagine the Aussie audience to have a good laugh) and, with the clever-clever lines just zinging along, the hour passes by just so quickly.

A good part of Lucifer rests on the shoulders of Welsh actor Tom Ellis. American viewers might remember Ellis from the Rush TV series but fans of British TV can recall Ellis as chef Gary Preston - Miranda’s long-time love interest; and as Mark Pearson, the parent who is trying to fit in in the Gates TV series.

The way it is written, the role of Lucifer really calls for a British to be cast. You need that sneer or that wit or that slight change in intonation that turns what might be a plain line into something with a touch of sarcasm. And the way Ellis plays it is just so much fun. [It’s like watching the very first season of House.]

The pilot maps out, albeit briefly but nicely, an outline of potential story arcs - one of which is why Chloe Dancer is immuned to Lucifer’s touch - and, probably, more involvement with Amenadiel in the coming episodes.

Of course, anything and any show involving Lucifer will not go unscathed. According to the wiki:

On May 28, 2015, American Family Association website One Million Moms launched a petition to prevent the show’s airing. The petition says the new series “will glorify Satan as a caring, likable person in human flesh.” One Million Moms posted the petition on aforementioned date and thus far, 27,085 “concerned mothers” have asked Fox to cancel the program by signing the petition. The petition on the AFA website, which was also posted on the same date, has garnered the support of over 132,172 “concerned viewers.”

Against the petition submitted by the right-wing Christian group, the character’s co-creator, Neil Gaiman, reacted on his Tumblr page saying: “Ah. It seems like only yesterday (but it was 1991) that the “Concerned Mothers of America” announced that they were boycotting SANDMAN because it contained Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Trans characters. It was Wanda that upset them most: the idea of a Trans Woman in a comic book… They told us they were organising a boycott of SANDMAN, which they would only stop if we wrote to the American Family Association and promised to reform. I wonder if they noticed it didn’t work last time, either…

If there is a downside, it’s just that Lucifer comes in the wake of Supernatural, which has its own angels-turned-”bad guys” storylines. As such, Lucifer does lose some of that freshness and, subsequently, some “Hell” and “Devil” jokes/punch-lines. Still, can’t wait for the series to begin airing.

And then, there is Star Trek: Renegades. This is an unlicensed and unofficial fan-made movie released on August 1, 2015. Directed by Tim Russ, the film was largely funded through crowdsourcing, and the producers claimed they were going to submit it to CBS as a spec TV pilot.

It’s 10 years after the starship Voyager‍ ’​s [the series with Captain Kathryn Janeway] return from the Delta Quadrant, and the Federation is in a crisis. The Federation’s main suppliers of dilithium crystals (the primary catalyst for the fuel used in faster-than-light travel) are disappearing. Space and time have folded around several planets, isolating them from outside contact. Admiral Pavel Chekov, head of Starfleet Intelligence, turns to Commander Tuvok, Voyager‍ ’​s former security officer and current head of the newly reorganized Section 31, to solve the crisis. Tuvok puts together a covert crew (mostly outcastes, rogues and criminals) and, to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Visually, Star Trek: Renegades looks impressive. Fine, a bit of blue screen stands out but overall, there is nothing in terms of looks, design and special effects to be ashamed about. The CGI generally looks good. Given the limited budget of US$375,000, there is no major transporter effects [probably a key sequence in the Star Trek franchise]. And warp speed is just a facsimile of what we have seen in the cinemas in the past.

Given that director Tim Russ is a Star Trek alumni, he has managed to get rope in Walter Koenig, who reprises his role as Pavel Chekov, and Richard Herd (Star Trek: Voyager’s Admiral Owen Paris). But that’s not all. There is Sean (Blade Runner) Young; Corin (The Stand) Nemec; and Edward (Terminator 2) Furlong. [The team behind Renegades had previously produced the 2007-08 fan-made Star Trek: Of Gods and Men, with Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Alan Ruck, Garrett Wang and Grace Lee Whitney - all Trek actors.]

The joy in watching any rebooted/revamped or newly-created Star Trek show is the recognition of things familiar; the ensemble acting and interaction; and, God-willing, some sparkling dialogue. It’s interesting that the lead character, Captain Lexxa Singh, is a descendant of Khan Noonien Singh, possibly one of the best villains in the Star Trek universe. While the acting in Star Trek: Renegades is professional, the whole endeavour is let down by weak dialogue. Viewers won’t cringe and we all have seen worse. Blame it on watching too many Russell T Davies/Steven Moffat/Mark Gatiss Dr Whos or the excellent and cerebral ITV Lewis.

The Federation is in a crisis (why isn’t it?), practically doomed to extinction but there is no sense of urgency. The renegade crew gets caught, is imprisoned and only manages to free itself through sheer luck. It’s only in the last 10 minutes that the show picks up the pace and that  includes a rather touching scene involving Edward Furlong’s Fixer character. Unfortunately, Corin Nemec’s role is a throwaway.

A small group of people trying to fix up nasty situations, now, isn’t that what the classic Star Trek was all about? Looks like someone is still trying to reinvent the wheel. Wonder if CBS will pick this up; and if they do, how much retooling will be made? As the Borgs would say, assimilation is far from complete. For the Star Trek fans, resistance is simply futile.

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