The geeks have inherited the earth. Or at least television.
Once we were the red-haired step-children of American audiences, subsisting on a thin gruel of giant-insect movies, “Famous Monsters of Filmland” magazines and “Star Trek” reruns. But now sci-fi, fantasy, superheroes, magic and comic books rule the small screen — and geeks are wearing the Glass Slippers of Triumph to the ball.
In 2019, the number of genre TV shows airing or streaming will be in triple figures. My list — which is certainly not comprehensive — has 36 new shows that appeal to those who prefer Red Weddings to romance, sci-fi to sitcoms and talking dogs to talk shows.
Five of them debut this month:
“Deadly Class” (Jan. 16, Syfy): A street kid is inducted into a private high school and finds he is still at the bottom of the social order. Worse, it’s a high school for assassins, where the knife in your back isn’t metaphorical. (The pilot was previewed in December.)
“Kingdom” (Jan. 25, Netflix): Set in the royal court of medieval Korea, “Kingdom” is blessed with gorgeous costumes, exotic sets and sumptuous production values. Also, there are zombies. It promises to be the most beautiful apocalypse ever filmed.
“The Passage” (Jan. 14, Fox): Based on the Justin Cronin novel, this series features an entirely different vampire apocalypse than the ones seen on “Van Helsing” and “The Strain.” Please try to keep up.
“Project Blue Book” (Jan. 8, History Channel): This series adapts true stories from the U.S. Air Force’s famous series of investigations into UFOs. “X-Files” shenanigans ensue, transforming the lead investigator from a skeptic into a believer.
“Roswell, New Mexico” (Jan. 15, The CW): A woman returning to her hometown discovers her teenage crush is an extraterrestrial, just in time for an actual invasion. If that sounds familiar, it’s because this is the second time the “Roswell High” series of novels by Melinda Metz have been adapted for television.
Peak TV? It should be called Geek TV. And the trend seems very likely to continue, thanks to Netflix.
According to Variety, Netflix came from virtually nowhere to accumulate more than 50 million subscribers in less than six years, with a direct-to-consumer streaming service. DTC uses the internet to sidestep traditional media carriers such as cable, satellite and broadcast — eliminating the middleman.
The company built that subscriber list by throwing bushels of money at programming. Netflix has assembled such a massive archive of video sweetmeats, original and otherwise, that “Saturday Night Live” took a poke at it with a faux commercial:
“We’re spending billions of dollars and making every show in the world,” the announcer brags breathlessly. “Our goal is the Endless Scroll. By the time you reach the bottom of our menu, there are new shows at the top. And thus we achieve the singularity. It’ll take 12 human lifetimes to watch all of our content, so start watching now!”
They’re not exaggerating by much. Now the other major players are scrambling to catch up.
Amazon Prime, CBS All Access, DC Universe, HBO Now, Hulu, Starz and other services or apps are already here, launching as DTC from the get-go or morphing into swans from whatever ugly ducklings they used to be. AT&T (which owns WarnerMedia), Comcast (NBCUniversal) and Apple (your wallet) have all announced plans for DTC, and have started throwing their own checkbooks around.
The 800-pound mouse will arrive in fourth quarter 2019. Disney+ (pronounced “Disney Plus”) will offer new and archived content from all corners of the huge House of Mouse, which includes Disney, Marvel, Pixar and Star Wars.
News, sports and opinion streaming services are also in the game, but they are inherently limited to those who are interested in news, sports and opinion shows. Geek TV, on the other hand, has no upper limit — as HBO discovered with “Game of Thrones” (and AMC did likewise with “The Walking Dead”), a prestige genre show has the potential to attract every quadrant of the audience.
And since nobody knows where the next “Game of Thrones” is coming from, every genre show has the potential to become the golden goose — which means the big companies are experimenting with different genres, and not watching the bottom line too closely. If a show hits “GoT” levels, that money will be well spent. If not, well, there’s an almost endless supply of concepts to mine from sci-fi/fantasy novels and comic books. Maybe the next one will be The One.
Speaking of “Game of Thrones,” the final six episodes will arrive this year, beginning in April. And it’s probably the most anticipated show of the year. But no matter who ends up on the Iron Throne —– I’m rooting for the Night King as a dark horse — it’s hardly the only game in town.
Some other genre favorites are also coming to an end in 2019 — but with a bang. “Gotham” (Fox) will give us a proper Batman at last, and possibly Joker and Catwoman as well. “The Punisher” and “Jessica Jones” — both as much psychological thrillers as they are superhero shows — will likely impress again on Netflix, which seems to be divesting itself of Marvel properties. And the always charming Liv Moore (Rose McIver) will, alas, live less as the quirky “iZombie” shambles to its conclusion.
Meanwhile, other popular and cult favorites return in 2019, from “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (revived from cancellation) to “Westworld.” But what really makes our Spider-sense tingle is all the new shows in 2019. Here are some more:
“Doom Patrol” (Feb. 15, DC Universe): Robotman, Elasti-Girl, Negative Man and The Chief were introduced on “Titans,” so we already have a pretty good idea just how disturbing — and funny — Cliff, Rita, Larry and Niles can be. And wait ‘til you meet Crazy Jane!
“Good Omens” (TBA, Prime): Adapted from the Neil Gaiman novel, this series stars David Tennant as the demon Crowley and Michael Sheen as the angel Aziraphale, who team up to prevent the End Times prophesied in the Book of Revelations. Don’t give them too much credit — they’re only doing so to protect their comfortable lives. And since they immediately lose track of the Antichrist, don’t expect competence.
“Lovecraft Country” (TBA, HBO): Jonathan Majors stars as a black man searching for his father in 1950s America, dealing with both Jim Crow and the occasional Elder God. Which is scarier, Cthulhu or redneck sheriffs?
“The Mandalorian” (TBA, Disney+): This live action Star Wars series, co-created by multi-hyphenate Jon Favreau (“Iron Man” director/actor), is set between “Return of the Jedi” and “The Force Awakens.” Since Boba Fett wears Mandalorian armor, I think we can assume a connection.
“Swamp Thing” (May 10, DC Universe): This show looks to have a much bigger budget than the cheesy version seen on the USA Network years ago. But it’s still not a direct adaptation of the wildly popular Alan Moore run of the comic book series, which seems like a missed bet to me.
“Twilight Zone” (TBA, CBS All Access): This series will retain the anthology format of Rod Serling’s 1959 show, and will be helmed by the multi-talented Jordan Peele (“Get Out” writer/director). Now you have a second reason to get CBS All Access, after “Star Trek: Discovery” (whose second season begins Jan. 17).
“Watchmen” (TBA, HBO): If you’re expecting the characters from the classic graphic novel or the Zach Snyder movie adaptation, you’ll be disappointed — this series is set after those events, and (spoiler) not many of those characters are left in a position to continue adventuring. This series could be terrifically unnerving and thoughtful (like the GN), or plodding and turgid (like the movie), or anywhere in between. Cross your fingers.
“What We Do in the Shadows” (TBA, FX) continues the misadventures of the incompetent vampires from Wellington, New Zealand, who were introduced in the movie of the same name. Sadly, Jemaine Clement (“Legion”) and Taika Waititi (“Thor: Ragnarok” director/actor) will not reprise their roles as Vladislav and Viago, respectively.