Category: TV


Review by C.J. Bunce

One of the criticisms so far into the third trilogy of Star Wars movies (the third and finale episode, The Rise of Skywalker, is due out this December) is not making the most of the original cast.  This seems to go double with fan expectations for Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker.  This is not some fault of fandom, it’s how Lucasfilm prepped its fans with great futures for Skywalker and his family, delivered via Timothy Zahn’s original sequel trilogy and then decades of brilliant stories via Dark Horse Comics.  There you’d find Luke Skywalker, grown into the role of Jedi Master, was everything you’d want from the hero we met in the movies.  Now fans can see that future in a History channel series streaming on Netflix, if they only bring along a little imagination.  That series is Knightfall.

The series follows a re-imagined history of the Knights Templar at the dawn of the 14th century.  If you ignore the historicity, good or bad, and see the film as a fantasy tale of knights in conflict and knights in training, you can see why the Jedi Knights were derived from these historic figures.  The Star Wars influence comes full circle as Mark Hamill himself joins the cast as a master knight named Talus in Season 2.  Here is that very same Luke Skywalker as you might have imagined him from Zahn and Dark Horse’s storytelling, war-weary and battle hardened, as he storms his way into the tale, leading and training knights, sometimes Mr. Miyagi style, sometimes with swords, sometimes with surprising methods.  Tilt your head a bit, cover one eye–do what you need to do–but some of Luke Skywalker’s best scenes as a Jedi Knight are in this series.  The very best is Talus’s final scene.  Mark Hamill, and Luke Skywalker, never were cooler than in his final conflict on the series.

Fantasy emphasis over history aside, for those students of the Middle Ages you’ll find a mix of truth and cinema twisted for story purposes, but overall this is that series about knights and swords, the Pope and the twisted King (they’re all twisted, always) and the beautiful Queen that you’re looking for.  The story follows hero Tom Cullen (The Five, Downton Abbey) as Landry, a wise but conflicted Knight Templar, whose band of trusted brothers botch protecting the Holy Grail, the same biblical cup so many medieval tales are based upon, but more of a McGuffin for this version of the tale.  Landry’s band of knights, Pádraic Delaney (The Tudors) as Gawain, and Simon Merrells (DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Ashes to Ashes) as one of the best knights you’ve seen onscreen as Tancrede lead viewers from enough intrigue to keep them coming back for more.  Olivia Ross (War & Peace) is particularly engaging as Queen Joan, one of the only women characters in the series, and Jim Carter (Downton Abbey) is great fun to watch as the regal yet conniving Pope Boniface VIII.  Of the bad guys, you’ll love to hate Ed Stoppard (Zen, The Frankenstein Chronicles) as King Philip (again, all kings are bad), and Julian Ovenden (Downton Abbey, Charmed) as his on-again, off-again confidante and henchman.  As Cullen’s Landry and the Queen of France fall in love, how both the knight order and the King handle the aftermath is the conflict that plays out over 18 episodes, with the backdrop of a coming battle between France and England beckoning.

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Once a year at borg we ask: What makes a great screen heroine? It’s time for borg′s annual look at the Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines in film and television.  Despite delays in releases due to the covid pandemic, nothing kept Hollywood from including great female characters on the screen, even if that meant moving movies to the small screen for a while. We’re highlighting the very best from a slate of fantastic heroines, with characteristics to learn from and root for.  Determined, decisive, loyal, brave, smart, fierce, strong, you’ll find no one here timid or weepy, but all rely on their individual skills to beat the odds and overcome any obstacle that comes their way.  Over the years we have expanded the list to include any tough, savvy, gritty character played by a woman, so villains are welcome here, too.  (Want to see previous years’ kickass genre heroines to see how 2020 compares?  Here are 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015). Some may be frazzled, put-upon, war-weary, or human, but all have fought, some against difficult circumstances, others against personal demons (literally, figuratively, or both), and some against gun and laser fire.  And they all showed what a tough, kick-ass, and often badass, character is about.

This year we add masked superheroines, a CDC epidemiologist, aliens, assassins, martial artists, warriors, cyborgs, a telephone operator, an engineer, a bounty hunter, and a frog and a pig–with a roster evenly split between television and movie characters. Credit goes to both the writers, costumers, and other creators of the characters and the actors and performers that brought them all to life.

These are the Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2020:

Bo-Katan Kryze (The Mandalorian, Star Wars: The Clone Wars).  In the animated series she would let nothing stand in her way. In a galaxy with villains like Grand Admiral Thrawn and Grand Moff Gideon, we’re lucky to have Bo-Katan on our side. Leading a team to find the Darksaber and restore Mandalore, she’s also willing to enlist a lone straggler, and help him for his efforts. With Katee Sackhoff, the actress behind Starbuck, in the armor, the coolness factor goes up by a factor of 100. Great heroines are great leaders, and, like Bo-Katan, they wield an incredible arsenal of skills. (Disney/Lucasfilm)

Nicole Haught in Wynonna Earp

Sheriff Nicole Haught (Wynonna Earp).  Katherine Barrell’s tough, savvy, and friendly sheriff is one of the best reasons to watch Wynonna Earp, now four seasons running. She’s the girlfriend of Wynonna’s sister Waverly, she is plugged into the local supernatural happenings, and she’s always available to lend a hand, when she’s not carrying out her sheriff duties. She’s an investigator who is loyal, driven, and smart. She’s also fun and friendly, making her the heart of the series. In a show about supernatural people, she holds her own as law enforcer simply by her own human wits. (Syfy)

Seven of Nine (Star Trek Picard).  More than forty years of Star Trek have revealed some exceptional women leaders. This year we were lucky to see the re-appearance of one of the best, a character who was captured as a child and trapped in what amounts to a technological cult. With the help of a strong captain, Seven was able to break free, and re-learn what it means to be human. This year that meant helping a legendary former admiral, avenge the death of her closest friend, and fight for good long after her call to duty. (CBS All Access)

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Once a year at borg we ask: What makes a great screen heroine? It’s time for borg′s annual look at the Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines in film and television.  We’re highlighting the very best from a slate of fantastic heroines, with characteristics to learn from and root for.  Determined, decisive, loyal, brave, smart, fierce, strong, you’ll find no one here timid or weepy, but all rely on their individual skills to beat the odds and overcome any obstacle that comes their way.  Over the years we have expanded the list to include any tough, savvy, gritty character played by a woman, so villains are welcome here, too.  (Want to see previous years’ kickass genre heroines to see how 2021 compares?  Here are 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015). Some may be frazzled, put-upon, war-weary, or human, but all have fought, some against difficult circumstances, others against personal demons (literally, figuratively, or both), and some against gun and laser fire.  And they all showed what a tough, kick-ass, and often badass, character is about.

This year we add three superheroines, an amnesiac bounty hunter, four police detectives, a thief, a grifter, a hacker, 13 martial arts experts, three soldiers, a god, a duchess, two college students, three Russian assassins, a spy, an actress, a cyborg, a bartender, a forensics expert, a hitman, and a helicopter pilot, with eight characters we’ve seen in past years and 13 all-new characters we’ve never seen in any medium before–all in a roster split between 21 television and 13 movie characters. Credit goes to both the writers, costumers, and other creators of the characters and the actors and performers that brought them all to life.

These are the Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2021:

Antonia Dreykov aka Taskmaster (Black Widow).  Was there a more intriguing, surprising, gut-wrenching character this year than Olga Kurylenko’s super-powered cyborg?  She was one of the best costumed villains this year and certainly the most sympathetic, leaving the question: Where does she go from here? (Disney)

Faye Valentine (Cowboy Bebop).  Daniella Pineda’s spin on this classic sci-fi character couldn’t have been better.  Always eager, always excitable, always refreshing, as she pursued the dramatic journey to discover who she really is. (Netflix)

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Fans of pop culture and comics have one more day to attend the fourth annual Wizard World Comic Con in Des Moines this weekend.   Held at the Iowa Events Center in downtown Des Moines, thousands of attendees from Iowa and neighboring states toured the halls and giant celebrity autograph and photo-op room, many in cosplay garb Friday and Saturday.  Even more people are expected to turn out for the show Sunday as Wizard World rolls out a “bring a friend free” promotion.  The show continues today 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Check out the event website here for more information.  Wizard World continues its national presentation of comic book and pop culture conventions next week as the show moves on to Columbus, Ohio.  After the success of the first two days of this year’s event in Des Moines, the fifth Wizard World Des Moines show is already being planned by show organizers for next year, to be held May 10-12, 2019.

Doctor Who’s David Tennant and Black Panther’s Winston Duke, and many other celebrities talked with fans in the show’s celebrity row signing area.  Comic book creators talked about books, and autographed books and art for fans.  We loved this new Green Arrow print from guest comic book creators Phil Hester and Ande Parks (with color by Mouse Baumann):

Even more than 20 years after the last episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, James Marsters (Spike) maintained a steady stream of fans waiting in line to meet him all day Saturday:

Star Trek icon Nichelle Nichols returned to the Midwest.  Here she is being interviewed at the event for a local radio station:

Genre actor Jim Beaver (Supernatural, The X-Files, Deadwood, Enterprise) met and signed autographs for crowds of fans:

Nationally-known comic book creators were well-represented at this show.  Artist Phil Hester returned to Wizard World–here he is featured on the creator stage demonstrating illustration techniques:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Previewed with an elaborate display at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con, Project Blue Book at last has made it to television as the latest supernatural TV drama.  It got off to a slow start with its premiere episode this week, but it has potential, beginning with the performance of the series lead, Irish actor Aiden Gillen.  Gillen, known for roles in The Wire, The Dark Knight Rises, Game of Thrones, and Bohemian Rhapsody, plays real-life Dr. Allen Hynek, a college professor brought into the U.S. Air Force’s Project Blue Book program to help debunk the existence of UFOs beginning in the 1950s (he would later be a technical advisor on Close Encounters of the Third Kind–he actually coined the term “close encounter”).  Gillen plays the role like the lead in a John La Carré novel, and he’s a ringer for a younger Gary Oldman (think Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy).  He is partnered with British actor Michael Malarkey as Captain Michael Quinn (an amalgam of several figures from the history books), the skeptic charged with quashing any idea that UFOs exist under the orders of General James Harding, played by Neal McDonough (Captain America: The First Avenger, Walking Tall, Star Trek: First Contact, Arrow, Quantum Leap).  

A twist for the series is its effort to show a non-fiction side to The X-Files motif.  It’s one of History Channel‘s rare efforts (along with Vikings) to get back to its educational roots.  This includes a smartly added In Search Of -inspired coda citing specific data points used as background for the episode.  And it has a big name attached to it–Robert Zemeckis–as executive producer.  The two women leads may pull in even more viewers–Laura Mennell (The Man in the High Castle, Haven, Watchmen) as Hynek’s wife, and Ksenia Solo (Lost Girl, Orphan Black, Black Swan) as a newcomer to Hynek’s neighborhood.

The production looks good, a typical Vancouver production with a moderate budget, but what’s there is quality–something in the vibe of Wayward Pines.  So look for plenty of good vintage nostalgia–some pretty 1950s cars, a solid wardrobe from costumer Carla Hetland (In the Name of the King, Butterfly Effect, Garage Sale Mystery) and a believable era from the past put onto the screen from production designer Ross Dempster (Wayward Pines, Lost in Space).

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Our borg Best of 2018 list continues today with the best in television.  If you missed it, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2018 here and the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2018 here.

Without further ado, this year’s Best in Television:

Best Borg TV Series, Best TV BorgHumans (AMC).  No other series touches on the ramifications of technology, specifically the perils of an onslaught of real-world cyborg technology, like AMC’s Humans.  This year three characters stood out, including Gemma Chan’s Mia, the cyborg Synth from past seasons, who sacrificed everything for the liberty of cyborgs in the UK.  Then there was Ruth Bradley’s Karen Voss, a Synth who refused to live segregated from the humans, opting instead for a normal life for the cyborg son she assumed care for.  And Katherine Parkinson’s Laura Hawkins, a human lawyer who fought so hard for the cause of the Synths all year, only to throw away all the good she had done, failing the first real challenge that was presented to her.  This year’s best TV borg is shared by Synths Mia and Karen, as each showed the uphill battle any future outsider must overcome when faced with humans.

Best Sci-fi TV SeriesThe Man in the High Castle (Amazon).  What had been a two-season build-up all came together in the series’ third season with the audacity of killing off key characters, wisely adhering to the framework of the source Philip K. Dick novel.  The use of science fiction to tell an often gut-wrenching array of subplots and unique characters has set up a fourth season with plenty to address.  Exciting, smart, scary, and even fun, it is an unusual science fiction show that isn’t merely trigger-happy sci-fi.  Honorable mention: Humans (AMC), Counterpart (Starz).

Best New TV Series, Best Reboot, Best Ensemble CastMagnum PI (CBS).  If you would have told us a year ago our favorite show this year would be a reboot of Magnum, p.i. starring Suicide Squad’s Jay Hernandez and an actress in the iconic role of John Hillerman’s Higgins, we wouldn’t have believed it.  And yet, even as diehard fans of the original, we had to acknowledge that many elements of the reboot series were even better in the new series.  With the dangerous risk of taking on a beloved property, the production maintained loyalty to the original while making it fresh, scoring Magnum PI high marks on all counts.  Every character was smartly written–suave and confident Magnum, energetic Rick and TC, and a savvy Higgins–every actor was perfectly cast, and each show was another round of nostalgic fun for fans of the original.  Best New TV Series Honorable mention for Best New TV Series: Counterpart (Starz), Lodge 49 (AMC).

Best Series, Best Drama, Best ComedyLodge 49 (AMC).  Lodge 49 told two stories: a darkly serious drama of real people dealing with real-life 2018 adversity, and the other a comedy farce like no other.  Hanging over our heads was the idea that this was going to be a fantasy show, complete with secret codes, hidden rooms, and psychic visions.  If you’re looking for all the elements of great fantasy the hint of it all could be found throughout this series.  And yet it wasn’t fantasy at all.  An oddball Cheers?  A southern Twin Peaks without the Lynchian weirdness?  Star Wyatt Russell’s hero Dud could be dismissed as a typical young man with no vision, or maybe he’s that idealist that everyone needs to strive to be.  Maybe we’ll learn more about that next season.  Honorable mention for Best Drama: Counterpart (Starz).  Honorable mention for Best Comedy: Baskets (FX).
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Review by C.J. Bunce

Start with the obvious comparison: Marvel’s Iron Fist.  If you were disappointed with that series, get ready for what you probably wanted.  It’s called Wu Assassins, and the ten episodes of the new direct-to-Netflix series arrived late this past summer.  Wu Assassins weaves so much into its ten very different chapters of its storytelling, you’ll quickly find it’s not only an American attempt at a wuxia martial arts heroes show–it bends the genre into a supernatural, urban fantasy story with characters on the brink of their unique brand of apocalypse, with several Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Grimm parallels.  And lots of lots of great hand-to-hand fight scenes.  This may not measure up to being the next Buffy or a top Chinese tale like Legend of the Condor Heroes, but as a watch-alike, it far surpasses the Buffy spinoff Angel, as well as most of the Marvel Netflix series.  If Netflix can pull together series like Wu Assassins, especially with absolute writing freedom and without the need to rely on some existing brand like DC or Marvel (or anything Disney), then its future is secured.

The world of Wu Assassins begins in our world today, as we meet Kai Jin, played by 36-year-old Indonesian actor and burgeoning martial arts pro, stuntman, and fight choreographer Iko Uwais.  Kai is a young master chef who wants to own his own food cart in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  This is a Chosen One story, and Kai is introduced to a world where the Chinese philosophy of wuxing is interpreted to rely on human masters of the elements of this world (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water) who can exist both in this realm and a supernatural otherworld.  In the middle of an already difficult life, Kai is tapped as the Wu Assassin and he is told by a bellwether and instructor from the otherworld named Ying Ying, played by Celia Au (Lodge 49, Iron Fist, Gotham), that he must kill the Fire Wu, who just happens to be Kai’s adoptive father, known by most as Uncle Six.  He’s not just any dad, as Uncle Six, played masterfully by the scene stealing Byron Mann (The Expanse, Arrow, Smallville, Dark Angel), is also the head of the Chinese crime family, the Triads.

Kai’s Buffy-esque band of friends includes a restaurant owner named Jenny Wah (Li Jun Li, The Exorcist, Quantico), her drug-adled brother Tommy (Lawrence Kao, Sleepy Hollow, The Walking Dead), and Kai’s oldest friend Lu Xin (Lewis Tan, Iron Fist, Deadpool 2), who is a suave up-and-coming thief of high-end cars.  Spliced into the story is a San Francisco cop played by The Vikings queen Katheryn Winnick, a badass on a motorcycle who knows her own street fighting and inadvertently witnesses the magic of the otherworld while undercover trying to bust gang activity at China Basin.  These lead characters are just the beginning, as the series packs in a few seasons’ worth of ideas, and all of it is great fun.

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Vikings 4b

Two years ago I interviewed two stars of Vikings here at borg.com just before the premiere of Season Two of the landmark series.  It’s hard to believe a show this good, and as historically and culturally focused as Vikings is, has managed to survive this long.  But it’s well-deserved–the drama and action rival any other series on television.  The second half of Season Four is coming soon, and we’ve seen a first look at what’s to come courtesy of the History Channel at San Diego Comic-Con this weekend.

Swag available at this year’s SDCC booth for the series included a drinking horn and comic book from a story written by Michael Hirst.  “The Bastard,” was written by Ralph Tedesco and drawn by Andrea Mutti.

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Panelists from the series this year included key players Travis Fimmel (Ragnar), Katheryn Winnick (Lagertha), Clive Standen (Rollo), Alexander Ludwig (Bjorn), Gustaf Skarsgard (Floki) and Michael Hirst (writer/creator).

Vikings season 4b

Check out this preview of part two of Season Four of Vikings, previewed this weekend at San Diego Comic-Con:

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It’s time for borg′s annual look at the Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines in film and television.  This year we selected 25 characters that rose to the top.  Again the studios gave us more to cheer about than ever.  We’re highlighting the very best from a slate of fantastic heroines, with characteristics to learn from and cheer on.  Determined, decisive, loyal, brave, smart, fierce, strong (and, okay, sometimes evil), you’ll find no one here timid or weepy, but all rely on their individual skills to beat the odds and overcome any obstacle that comes their way.  Over the years we have expanded the list to include any tough, savvy, gritty character played by a woman, so villains are welcome here, too.  Some may be frazzled, put-upon, war-weary, or human, but all have fought, some against difficult circumstances, others against personal demons (literally, figuratively, or both), and some against gun and laser fire.  And they all showed what a tough, kick-ass character is about.

In 2018 these characters broke new ground, and unlike last year’s great list, this year’s selections would not have worked as well had the characters been swapped for males.  We had a former MI-5 agent, bounty hunters, assassins, doctors, defenders, advanced superhumans, superheroines, warriors, witches, and even a few cyborgs–with a roster evenly split between television and movie characters.

Better yet, here’s something we haven’t said before.  Several of our selections this year were played by women over 50.

These are the Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2018:

Enfys Nest (Solo: A Star Wars Story).  For the first half of Solo: A Star Wars Story, Enfys Nest was the leader of a band of pirates, a character as cool and ruthless as anyone Han Solo ever faced.  But once she took off her mask,  it became clear how important she was, how significant her mission was–even more so than Han Solo’s own pursuit of mere wealth.  She foreshadowed what Han would later find with Leia, an early glimpse at a rogue and scoundrel who actually had some good in him.  When they joined forces, it made their characters even better.  And she became one of the best warriors in the Star Wars universe since the original trilogy.  (Disney/Lucasfilm)

Okoye (Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War).  Is there any woman warrior as powerful and impressive in a fantasy movie this year as Danai Gurira’s Okoye?  We can’t think of any.  A smart commander, a brave soldier, a loyal ally.  Stalwart, devoted, steadfast, strong physically, intimidating and wise, with a keen unwavering ferocity, she represented the best of Wakanda, and fought bravely to defend the world at the last stand against Thanos.  (Disney/Marvel)

Higgins (Magnum PI).  Few television characters are as beloved as Jonathan Higgins in the original Magnum, p.i.  So it was going to be risky having any actor step into the role John Hillerman made famous.  So when the show honored the original character and late actor with such a finely tuned, updated character and actor, we took notice.  Perdita Weeks’s Juliet Higgins is everything Robin Masters was–the character we all thought Higgins was in secret.  We don’t know whether we’ll learn the truth this time around and what that truth will be, but as an ex-British secret service agent, she’s a James Bond for Thomas Magnum to partner with–literally running alongside the show’s star and fighting and shooting her way as an equal.  And the result?  Every episode of the first season was full of great action and fun.  (CBS)
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Vikings banner season 4

Ragnar.  Lagertha.  Floki.  Rollo.  Helga.  Bjorn.

If you’ve ever dreamed of what the Viking world had been like, if you could spend a week in the world of any of your favorite television shows, MGM and History Channel’s Vikings series should be at the top of your list.  Nobody knows what it was like to live in any period of the past.  We rely on histories passed orally and in writing.  But it’s hard to imagine anyone getting so much more right than what the writers and art directors on Vikings have done.  The fourth season opener, which premieres in two weeks, is a relentless volley of action, excitement, and gritty drama.  After building conflicts, and the bloodiest most realistic battles on TV, it all comes together this season.  We’ve previewed the first four episodes of the season and Vikings could be on its way to be the year’s best drama.

This season History Channel has also added four episodes to its initial 16 episode order.  Beginning February 18, a new episode will air every Thursday for ten weeks with the remaining episodes to air later in the year.  Season three culminated with the battle in Paris, where Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) was victorious but returned to Kattegat nearly dead, leaving the legendary scheming of those around him–his wife Queen Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) and his oldest son, Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig).  Meanwhile the driven Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) develops a new relationship with her former lieutenant Kalf (Ben Robson), Rollo (Clive Standen) betrays all by remaining in France and the incredible character Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) must answer for the death of the Christian priest Athelstan.  And King Ecbert (Linus Roache) strategizes to defend Wessex from Ragnar.

Lagertha

New to the cast this year is Peter Franzén (The Gunman) as King Harold Finehair, a man who seeks to be King of Norway and a potential threat to Ragnar, Jasper Pääkkönen (Jet Trash) as Halfdan The Black, King Harold’s younger brother; and Dianne Doan (Descendants) as Yidu, a true newcomer to the world of the Vikings who fascinates both Ragnar and Aslaug.

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