Deadshirt is Watching… Trouble in Lovetopia

Deadshirt Is Watching…is a weekly feature in which Deadshirt staff, contributors, and guests sound off on the television shows we’re tuned into, from intense dramas to clever sitcoms to the most insane reality shows.

Dylan Roth is Watching…

Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors, Disney XD
“Agent Venom” (Season 3, Episode 3)

I’m sure there will come a day when I will stop enjoying superhero cartoons marketed at eight-year-olds, but that day has not yet arrived, so I’m once again trying Disney XD’s latest animated incarnation of the ol’ webhead. This season of Ultimate Spider-Man is a relaunch of sorts, complete with the new subtitle Web Warriors. This version of Spidey has been under the tutelage of Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. from the outset, and this year he’ll be building his own team of young superheroes, including a number of alternate versions of himself, in a sort of miniature version of the Spider-Verse crossover event currently ramping up in the comics world.

After a two-part season opener that saw Spider-Man joining the Avengers, this week forced the teenaged wall-crawler to deal with a potential sidekick in the form of dude-bro fanboy Flash Thompson. Flash gets accidentally bonded to the infamous Venom symbiote, but for some reason he’s able to control it instead of being controlled. The episode mostly deals with Flash, now “Agent Venom,” being goofy and dumb while Spidey tries to get the evil goop off of him. Also, Taskmaster (voice of Clancy Brown) makes an appearance, complete with a weird laser sword, and who doesn’t love laser swords?

If this is a typical episode, Ultimate Spider-Man remains an un-amazing animated series. It’s got a light, goofy tone, complete with hyper-cartoony cutaway gags, but the jokes don’t land particularly well. There’s a certain charm to a Peter Parker who only thinks he’s funny, but I’d prefer some genuine laughs. It could be that you have to be an eight-year-old to appreciate it, and I’m aware that the show is not made for me even though I will be buying the LEGO sets. On the plus side, the animation is crisp and on-model, the fight choreography is pretty creative, and it only sometimes feels like a toy commercial. I’m unlikely to check it out every week, but you can bet I’ll be back for the upcoming episode in which Donald Glover plays the voice of the real Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales.

Episode Highlight: Flash Thompson’s first attempt at being Spider-Man’s sidekick is by dressing up in a dorky red suit and a torn-up blue hoodie, a nod to the awfully-designed 90s Spider-Clone, the Scarlet Spider. Really, the attempts to honor the source material in small ways were appreciated by this nostalgic adult fan, even if it is a little cheap.

Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors airs Sunday mornings on Disney XD as part of the Marvel Universe block.

Haley Winters is Watching…

Utopia, Fox (Season 1, Episode 1)

Fox took a fifty million dollar gamble on Utopia, a new reality series that is, so far, living up to its hefty promises. Fifteen “pioneers” of diverse backgrounds, personalities, and beliefs will live on an isolated ranch for a full year, with the ideal of creating a utopian society. Right away the show impressed me by taking left turns from many reality show conventions: there are no talking heads, and the filming is done by controlled stationary cameras, which means there are no crews getting in the pioneers’ faces and betraying the illusion. They are given the option to be as involved with the outside world as they choose. They’ve got $5000 and an uncharged phone (and no electricity yet). Aside from an early task–to pack all their belongings into a mutual crate–there has been no interference by “big brother” Fox, nor does there seem to be much coming, with the exception of the unnecessary narration by a host who looks bafflingly like W.B. Mason.

And as far as I can tell, there is no ultimate prize, monetary or otherwise. Since the pioneers are allowed to do whatever they want, including leaving and kicking each other out, it will be interesting to see what keeps them there for the full year. New people will be introduced to the society soon, but this initial two-hour slot is solely for the “founding fathers and mothers” of Utopia. On top of it all, Utopia is accessible for streaming 24/7, which means this experiment, unlike others of its kind, is happening in almost real time, which opens doors to scandals the producers might never be expecting.

The casting is reality show drama-bait at its best: we’ve got John the pastor, Nikki the tantric sex therapist (“My utopia is called Lovetopia”), Red the “backwoods hillbilly” (his words, spoken toothlessly), Dave the ex-con, and Bella the survivalist prepper, to name a few. Amanda is several months pregnant. Dedeker is missing her polyamorist quadruple-relationship. Bri and Chris, as the youngest and prettiest, have already started hooking up. Hex got alcohol poisoning on her first night. There is certainly no shortage of sweet, sticky drama. But, as is often the case, these people turn out to be more than the stereotypes they were cast for, and some unlikely characters quickly rise to leadership positions (although an official government has yet to be devised). Nothing is as simple as it seems, and creating a utopia is perhaps the most complicated endeavor one could try for. Props to Fox for pulling off a project of this scale and scope. As far as reality TV goes, Utopia’s got a lot to sink your teeth into.

Episode Highlight: After Josh gets thoroughly wasted and manages to piss off every single other person in Utopia, Mike the attorney calls a trial to decide his fate. As Utopia has yet to have a governing body of any sort, the whole thing is irredeemably stupid, but Mike’s got a gavel, so it goes unquestioned.

You can watch Utopia on Fox Tuesdays and Fridays at 8/7c, or streaming online 24/7 at http://www.utopiatv.com/ 

Joe Stando is watching…

The Strain, FX
“The Disappeared” (Season 1, Episode 9)

The Strain DiW

After last week’s gory, violent episode, The Strain dialed it back for a little bit more character development and suspense. This is understandable from a storyline standpoint (can’t have highs without lows) as well as budgetary one (you can only afford so many gross vampire mouth tentacles per week). The problem was, this meant that it slid back into some of the flaws I criticized it for an earlier review, namely relying too much on artificial drama. The Strain has a little bit of “don’t go in that room!” –style bouts of occasional idiocy, and the sex between Eph and Nora was that to a T. But there were still plenty of highlights; it was good to check back in with Gus in jail, and the flashback sequences were effective. This one was more moving pieces around than anything, but with this many characters in play, it’s important to take a breath once in a while.

Episode highlight: This week was the first time we got to hear shadowy main villain The Master’s voice, as well as see his face without a hood. Both were suitably impressive. I feel like the show has undersold him as a villain a little thus far, since we’ve mainly just seen him brutally murdering people, rather than as a calculating, powerful being. The voice (provided by Robin Atkin Downes) added a lot of gravitas to him, and his makeup design was equal parts intriguing and creepy, being a clear homage to Nosferatu. I’m familiar with his backstory from the graphic novel, and hopefully we’ll be seeing more of him soon.

The Strain airs Sundays at 10pm on FX. Read Joe’s review of the first part of the season here

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