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. This week: Arrow, Madam Secretary, and Fake Off.
Dylan Roth is Watching…
Arrow, The CW
Season 3, Episode 4: “The Magician”
Wednesdays at 8/7c
Warner Bros. has launched three new live-action network dramas this fall based on DC Comics properties which are all still finding their footing to varying levels of success, but Arrow, now fifty episodes deep, has grown out of its awkward years and knows exactly what kind of show it is. It’s a dark superhero soap opera with just enough camp and humor to keep from drowning in the “gritty” that WB still insists (despite all evidence to the contrary) comics fans crave. This is a show about a bunch of really hot people shooting arrows at one another for really no reason other than how cool it is. If you can’t keep from asking “why don’t they just use guns?” then this show is probably not for you. Enjoy the well-staged fight sequences, the whodunnit plot twists, and the omnipresent sexual tension between pretty much any two characters.
This episode is meant to up-the-ante for the series, setting up Batman nemesis Ra’s al Ghul (Mathew Nable) as the new Big Bad. One of the team, Sara “Canary” Lance (Caity Lotz) was murdered in the season premiere, and the prime suspect is handsome shitheel/known mass murderer Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman). Sara’s sometimes girlfriend and world-class assassin Nyssa al Ghul (Katrina Law) wants Merlyn dead, but leading man Oliver “Arrow” Queen (Stephen Amell) won’t play along, not only because he’s taken a vow against killing, but because Merlyn is also father to his half-sister Thea (Willa Holland). Tangled-web soap opera melodrama ensues, punctuated by solid action and the kind of winks to comics lore that tease fans but also draw no attention to themselves.
Of the two Batman-less Batman shows on the air this season, this is the one to go to for comics-style action, romance, and weirdness.
Episode Highlight: I’m continually intrigued by whatever game Thea is playing. Her father trained her to fight during the off-season, but she’s hiding her abilities and maintaining the ruse that she believes Merlyn is dead. This week she let herself get kidnapped rather than reveal her new skills to Nyssa, a complete stranger. I’m excited to see what her ultimate goal is, and how she’ll react when she, the last person on Earth who doesn’t know her brother is Arrow, learns the truth.
Joe Stando is watching…
Madam Secretary, CBS
Episode 7, “Passage”
Sundays at 8/7c
Madam Secretary is kind of an odd show in the current TV landscape. For one thing, there are no superheroes, immortals, headless horsemen, or any other genre elements. But more than that, it’s a lower-stakes political drama where people actually behave in believable, realistic ways, as opposed to the insane power plays of House of Cards or Scandal. It’s not that I mind those, but it’s nice to be reminded of how solid a show can be based on grounded interactions. It also helps that the cast is so stellar (seriously, it’s basically every B-list character actor I like), and the writing is tight and not overly theatrical. This week’s episode, which dealt with a crisis in India, manages to sell a compelling and complex scenario without going too over the top, and it also avoids too much fetishizing of India as a plot point. I’ve been meaning to casually follow more network dramas this season, and so far this one has paid off.
Episode Highlight: Pretty much any scenes with Matt. George Arend does a solid job of selling the character as flawed but likeable, without coming across as either a douche or too much of an author insert-type. His bits with Daisy were great, especially their heartbreaking last scene, as that’s one of the B plots I’m more invested in. I also liked that the show managed to tell a story about (presumed) spousal infidelity with a happy ending, without defaulting to “It’s cool and awesome to cheat, though.” Other shows should take note.
Haley Winters is watching…
Fake Off, TruTV
Season 1, Episode 1
So if you haven’t yet heard (i.e., if you haven’t been casually flipping channels late at night looking for something decent to watch), the former CourtTV has been given a head-to-toe makeover to create TruTV, a thoroughly weird channel whose slogan “Way More Fun” is taken very seriously. Imagine if at your liberal arts college the a cappella club, the second-tier improv groups, and that one guy who kept trying to hold open mic nights on the quad all came together to start a television network. The result is a channel whose enthusiasm rests dangerously on the line between “fun” and “insufferable.”
While TruTV unpacks a lineup of shows rooted in improv comedy, magic, pranks, and improv comedy magic pranks, its primary showpiece is a reality program called Fake Off. Ignore the title, stripped to its simplest description (not a simple task in and of itself) it’s a Sing-Off-style competition show for mixed-media performance dance art. And yes, it’s as weird and crunchy as it sounds. Five competing “dance” teams (whose names include “Body Poets” and “Archedream”) perform “fake” versions of pop culture events using animation, shadow, blacklight, puppetry and mime, to name just a few elements. The judges are Harry Shum, Jr. of Glee fame, visual concept designer Michael Curry, and Chilli from TLC. (I repeat, Chilli from TLC.) It’s hosted by a very eager Robert Hoffman (from Step Up 2 The Streets, and who both my roommates found on Tinder this week–neither matched).
Over the course of the program my emotions flipped incessantly between fascination, horror, excitement, nostalgia for my college theatre program and hatred for my college theatre program. I still don’t know what to make of Fake Off. It could be a total flop or it could be what old people everywhere have been waiting for in the wake of American Idol’s slow but sure demise.
Episode Highlight: If you want to make a snap decision about Fake Off, check out team Archedream’s blacklight interpretation of Breaking Bad. You’ll either be sold or start running for the hills. (Chilli’s feedback–“Maybe you should have used bigger props.”)