A Tale of Two Series Part 2 (Saving Hope and Continuum)

Continuing my little re-consideration of Saving Hope and Continuum after a half dozen episodes…

Continuum is a sci-fi action series about a female cop (played by American actress Rachel Nichols) from the future, marooned in modern times, hunting future terrorists also marooned in the present. Like Saving Hope, Continuum isn’t terrible — it seems to boast a decent budget, it’s professionally put together, and it has competent actors. Although like with Saving Hope…I actually find the supporting cast more interesting than the leads — the villains are played by compelling actors. There’s even Janet Kidder in a recurring part as a character’s mom — Kidder who seemed to be making her mark a few years ago, then seemed to disappear from Canadian screens (looking at the IMDB, I guess she moved to England for a bit). Now she’s back…and it’s good to see her.

But the leads…I dunno. There’s a problem when your mind starts to drift when the heroes are on the screen…as opposed to counting the seconds till they come back on the screen. The heroine is, perhaps, tricky — as heroes are often a bit blandly generic. Maybe it’s her partner, played by Victor Webster, who’s a better example of the problem. A few episodes into it…and I’m still not really sure what his character is. I mean, he’s not wisecracking, he’s not dour, he’s not studiously by the book, he’s not fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants. And though the leads are (generically) good looking, if they are going for romantic tension…I’ve completely missed it (the heroine has a husband in the future, though he’s no mensch and seems to be involved in something shady, so the door isn’t completely closed on a present day affair…but as I say, if there’s sexual chemistry, I’m not seeing it). Yet neither have they — for me — created a sense of buddy-friendship, of partners who will go to the wall for each other. Honestly, his character seems to exist simply to give her someone to talk to, and who can kick in the back door while she’s kicking in the front. He’s like those old radio drama-era sidekicks whose sole purpose was not to have a personality, or to contribute to the story, but simply so the hero could have someone to explain their plan to. He’s Kato. No, scratch that. At least Kato got to rock that spiffy chauffeur uniform and drive the car (The Green Hornet couldn’t have done much crime fighting if he had to take the bus everywhere).

Now, hey, maybe to a fan they’d say Webster’s character is a complex, multi-faceted creation and it’s the best on-screen partnership since Crews & Reese, or Mulder & Scully, and that every scene between them drips with nuance and emotional heart. Maybe. Me I’m just watching a couple of heroes (three counting the teen computer hacker) who just seem to exist to serve the function of lead characters…rather than are lead characters.

Now one thing Continuum does boast that’s interesting — is also problematic.

As mentioned, the heroine is hunting terrorists from the future. Bad, psychotic, murderous terrorists, they are left-wing anti-capitalists because in the future the corporations largely control the governments. And therein lies the rub: because we’re also getting the impression the future may be a bit of a Dystopia, and that the terrorists may have a legitimate grievance, and the heroine is supporting a corrupt system. So it’s a gutsily ambitious and ambiguous premise to play with. The terrorists are villains — there’s no doubt they are dangerous and vile. Yet their goals, if not their actions, may not be without merit.

Yet it’s problematic because, looking at some message board discussions, at least some fans don’t recognize such concepts as “ambiguity”. So, seeing the anti-capitalists portrayed as the villains, liberal-left viewers object to the series and assume it’s endorsing the quasi-fascist future of corporate domination and curtailed human rights. While conservative-right viewers, suspecting we are supposed to see the future has its problems…lambaste the series because they therefore assume it is endorsing murderous terrorism. (The old head-in-the-sand idea that if we even so much as ask why terrorists are doing what they are doing…then the terrorists win). But life isn’t black and white and the series, surprisingly, is trying to tackle that idea. A good person (the heroine) might support a questionable system, while bad people might convince themselves they are acting for a greater good.

And some people recognize the show’s moral ambiguity — but say that’s not what they want when they turn on their TV for an hour to relax after a hard day at work. Which is fair enough. I have no real problem with people who say they want their pop corn entertainment to be…pop corn entertainment.

Anyway, but despite that arguably ambitious theme, the rest of the show, to my tastes, isn’t really living up to it. As I say, the characters seem kind of bland, the relationships and interpersonal dynamics ill-defined. And the plots are often pretty generic and thin (stretched for an hour) with “mysteries” that are pretty obvious, solutions that strain credulity, and basic ideas that lack, well, anything that intriguing. And the dialogue is a bit clunky (don’t sugar coat it, you say, tell us what you really think). When I first heard of the series, I thought it sounded a bit like the kind of straight-to-syndication sci-fi series they used to do in the 1990s, that often were cancelled within a season or two. Go ahead — read my post here that I wrote before Continuum even aired and decide whether I anticipated it fairly or not.

Now obviously: different strokes for different folks.

In an episode playing explicitly with the time paradox dilemma, the villains get it into their heads if they kill the heroine’s grandmother, then the heroine will never be born. Now, as a plot it struck me as a bit thin and simple: after initially having trouble finding her grandmother, the heroine then finds she’s a bit of an obnoxious street punk. But that didn’t really seem like enough to sustain an hour long plot. They throw in the idea that she’s pregnant and thinking of an abortion…which the heroine talks her out of with a simple pep talk that I suspect even pro-Life advocates would find inanely shallow. But then by the end of the episode, someone’s ancestor is killed (someone else’s ancestor) but it doesn’t erase them from existence. So then the cyber whiz kid remarks that, hmmm, maybe they were wrong about the person’s lineage, or maybe that means the future has fractured into parallel time lines, or “it could be anything”. So the funny thing is, to me that was a goofily lame line, since there wasn’t any other “anything” involved. There really were only two options: wrong ancestor, or parallel time lines — having him say it could be “anything” was just the writers way of making it seem like there were myriad possibilities. But on one message board, a fan praised the series for being real science fiction and dealing, head on, with the time paradox dilemma, as opposed to just ignoring it the way they figured a cheesy, sci-fi series would. Except, to me, that was the problem: they didn’t deal with it. The throw it in, acknowledge, it, then basically end on the fence where they began (last time I referred to the idea of “Gilligan’s Island” plotting) kind of how you’d expect a cheesy sci-fi show to do it.

Anyway, so then like with Saving Hope we get to a couple of recent episode. One involving a corporate executive being kidnapped, the other getting a bit more personal and — given my complaints about Webster’s character — focusing on him a bit more as a woman he knew is murdered and he tries to conceal his connection to the case.

Did they force me to rethink my position the way a recent Saving Hope episode made me reconsider that series? Were they the ones that made me go: “Say…hold on a minute…”?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: No…but almost.

Maybe it was because of the Saving Hope episode that I watched the Continuum episodes with a deliberately open mind.

The pacing seemed a little better, a little more going on in the episodes to justify the running time. Unfortunately, though they had twists and turns — they were pretty obvious twists and turns that you could see coming a kilometre away. And though there was character stuff — it was a bit uneven. After my suggesting the relationship between the heroine and her partner was a bit ill-defined, in the one episode, they do hint at something more and also put her in a situation where she has to go to the wall for him. Unfortunately…what they didn’t really do was justify why he had created the situation in the first place by not coming clean about his involvement with the victim. They’ve also introduced a sub-plot where the cyber whiz kid’s step brother is getting involved with bad guys…but it might have been more emotionally compelling and dramatic if they had been friends, now being torn apart by ideology. As opposed to characters who didn’t like each other to begin with. Indeed, the cyber whiz kid doesn’t really seem to like anyone…which kind of reflects more on him than those around him. (I mentioned I don’t find the leads that interesting, right?) And I don’t mean that that’s a deliberate character flaw — that he’s supposed to be a misanthrope. It just seems like the writers don’t know what to do with him when he’s not sitting at his computer. (And how does he afford all that computer equipment in the barn?)

So really — this is kind of non-story (kind of like what I criticize about Continuum). I mean, I write a post saying Saving Hope did do an episode that, grudgingly, I concede was pretty decent…forcing me to hold off on rendering a final review. While Continuum…well, I might suggest the recent episodes were marginally stronger…but not game changers.

 

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