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Harsh Realm – Inga Fossa (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

Inga Fossa is a noteworthy episode of Harsh Realm for a number of reasons.

In production terms, it closes out the loose three-episode introduction to the series. The Pilot, Leviathan and Inga Fossa were all written by Chris Carter and served as an introduction to the world and rules of Harsh Realm. Perhaps owing to the relative complexity of the show’s premise, Carter takes a bit of time to lay out and establish the core ideas of the show. It isn’t until the end of Inga Fossa that characters like Thomas Hobbes and Sophie have reached the status quo that will carry them through the rest of the first season.

Game on...

Game on…

However, all of this is ultimately irrelevant. Inga Fossa will always be notable for being the final episode of Harsh Realm to air on Fox. Chris Carter’s new show was infamously cancelled after only three episodes were broadcast. The six episodes that had been produced before cancellation were quietly shuffled off Fox’s 1999 schedule; they eventually aired on FX in mid-2000, to little fanfare. The cancellation was a shocking development. The ratings were spectacularly terrible, but Harsh Realm had been intended to establish Carter as the network’s idea-generating machine.

Something was very wrong.

"You can't $@!# in here, this is the war room!"

“You can’t $@!# in here, this is the war room!”

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Harsh Realm – Pilot (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man.

– Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, The First Part, Chapter XIII

Harsh Realm is essentially a war story, or a collection of war stories.

To be fair, there are other themes that bleed through the show’s short nine-episode run; a critique of late-stage capitalism, a healthy dose of Chris Carter’s patented nineties existential spirituality, an exploration of American masculinity. The show plays on all sorts of genres across its short lifespan, from horror story to western to modern noir film. However, all of these unfold against the backdrop of a world locked in total warfare. The opening scenes of The Pilot unfold against the Siege of Sarajevo, setting the tone for the rest of the series.

Tom's not here, man...

Tom’s not here, man…

Carter tends to wear his cinematic and televisual influences on his sleeves. The X-Files was a spiritual successor to Kolchak: The Night Stalker, with a little bit of The Parallax View and The Silence of the Lambs thrown in for good measure. Millennium launched in 1996 and owed a lot to the look and feel of David Fincher’s work on se7en. Harsh Realm owes a lot to the resurgence in war movies towards the end of the twentieth century, coming less than a year after Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line both scored Best Picture nominations.

On the commentary for The Pilot, Chris Carter notes that the show’s protagonist was named for the philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Carter cites that Hobbes’ most famous observation is that life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” The same might be said of the life of Harsh Realm.

Fading out...

Fading out…

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The X-Files – The Pine Bluff Variant (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

The Pine Bluff Variant is probably John Shiban’s best solo script for The X-Files.

It is the kind of story that the show does very well, a taut conspiracy thriller packed with sharp twists and turns. Not all of those twists and turns make a great deal of sense, but there is an incredible momentum to the episode that keeps it moving forward. John Shiban’s script is beautifully brought to life by Rob Bowman’s direction, with Bowman demonstrating once again why he was the perfect choice to direct The X-Files: Fight the Future. The Pine Bluff Variant is a well-constructed piece of television.

He who hunts monsters...

He who hunts monsters…

It also fits quite comfortably in the context of where the show is at this point in time. The fourth and fifth seasons of The X-Files saw the show really engaging with the dark underbelly of conspiracy culture just as Mulder when through his own dark midnight of the soul. After three seasons of endorsing paranoia and skepticism, The X-Files was ready to deal with the sorts of organised groups that believed in such conspiracies. The Pine Bluff Variant has Mulder infiltrating a militia a few months before the release of Fight the Future would recreate the Oklahoma City Bombing.

It is a thread with which the show had been playing since The Field Where I Died early in the fourth season. The Pine Bluff Variant is the last time that the series pushes these sorts of militia groups to the fore, with Mulder reaffirming and regaining his faith at the climax of Fight the Future. It is a suitably satisfying farewell to this recurring thematic motif.

Fleshing out the threat...

Fleshing out the threat…

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The X-Files – Hell Money (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Hell Money is an oft-overlooked episode of The X-Files.

The positioning in the third season probably doesn’t help. It comes directly after Teso Dos Bichos, probably the season’s weakest episode. It is also positioned in the gap between Pusher and Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”, two broadly-loved episodes that serve as pitch-perfect examples of The X-Files both on- and off-format. In contrast, Hell Money is something a little stranger. It is not as conventional as Pusher, nor as radical as Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space.”

Seeing is believing...

Seeing is believing…

Instead, Hell Money is an episode of The X-Files that loosely fits the show’s format. Mulder and Scully investigate a bunch of macabre murders where sinister forces are at work. However, in keeping with the broad themes of the third season, the evil in Hell Money takes a particularly banal form. There are no monsters here; at least, not any supernatural monsters. The only ghosts that haunt the narrative are metaphorical. There is a culture alien to our leads, but one a bit more grounded than extraterrestrials.

Hell Money is a clever and thoughtful piece of television that feels subtly and harrowingly subversive.

The writing is on the wall...

The writing is on the wall…

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Non-Review Review: Superman vs. The Elite

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

Superman has struggled with his pop culture credibility for quite some time now. The character is seen as too old-fashioned or outdated to really resonate in the modern world, standing for an overly simplistic and unquestioning moral philosophy which doesn’t take into account the nuances of current realities. Superman vs. The Elite, adapted from Joe Kelly’s What’s so Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?, represents an attempt to counter this opinion of Superman as a character. Unfortunately, it never really does so be convincing us that the character is still relevant. Instead, it creates a bunch of convenient straw men to oppose our hero, and never allows him to win on his own terms.

Beware the Superman...

Beware the Superman…

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The Absolute Authority, Vol. 1 (Review)

With Wildstorm being officially folded into the relaunched DCU (the “DCnU”), I thought I might take a look at some of the more successful and popular Wildstorm titles that the company produced. In particular, The Authority, the superhero saga that spun out of Stormwatch – a series that is getting its own post-relaunch book written by Paul Cornell, easily one of my more anticipated titles.

It’s really hard to grasp how much of a revolution Warren Ellis’ run on The Authority was, in hindsight. Sure, the writer had been playing with the idea of a more “real world” superhero team (at least in political and philosophical terms) since his original run on Stormwatch, but it was with The Authority that Ellis and Hitch managed to effectively lay out the design of superhero comics in the twenty-first century. It’s no coincidence that both halves of the creative team behind The Ultimates cut their teeth on the title (albeit at different times).

Was I the only one thinking of Gene Hunt everytime I read the word "superbastards"? "You are surrounded by armed superbastards!"

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