Watch ‘Umbrella Academy’ – & update your film calendar

I know I’m late in reviewing the Netflix sci-fi series “The Umbrella Academy,” but if you haven’t seen it yet and you’re wondering if you should, the answer is yes.

I did not read the comic from which it was adapted (written by Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance and illustrated by Gabriel Bá), so I can’t compare the two versions, but I enjoyed the show.f5_162293_0_TheUmbrellaAcademy1AApocalypse

It starts like this: Forty-three babies were born on Oct. 1, 1989 – to women who weren’t expecting babies. No one knows how this happened, but a mysterious billionaire named Reginald Hargreeves adopts seven of them and, because the children have special abilities, assembles them into a superhero team.

Fast forward to the present and Hargreeves has just passed away, bringing the kids, now adults, together at their childhood home.

I think the series’ developers, Steve Blackman and Jeremy Slater, did a great job with this. The cast is wonderful. Ellen Page (“Juno,” “X-Men”) is violinist Vanya, Tom Hopper (“Black Sails”) plays the big guy, Luther, and Broadway actress Emmy Raver-Lampman portrays Allison, who has the superpower of just saying “I heard a rumor …” and then whatever she says comes true.

David Castañeda plays Diego, who can throw a weapon that will hit any target, Robert Sheehan is Klaus (my favorite sibling), who can see dead people, and Justin H. Min is Ben, who is deceased but still appears to Klaus. Five has the power to travel through space and time. He is played by Aidan Gallagher, who is really amazing and convincing as an old man in a kid’s body.

John Magaro (“Not Fade Away,” “Orange is the New Black”) plays Vanya’s love interest, Leonard, Colm Feore is Sir Reginald Hargreeves, and Adam Godley voices Pogo, the chimpanzee butler. Cameron Britton and Mary J. Blige(!) are Hazel and Cha-Cha, two assassins from the future.

There’s a bunch of stuff I’m leaving out, because I don’t want to give anything away. But if you’re interested in a sort of darker version of the X-Men, you may want to start watching it when you have time to binge watch one episode after another.

This is rated TV-14, by the way, if you’re wondering if you should watch with your kids. It’s dark like “A Series of Unfortunate Events” (which is PG), but some of the themes in “Umbrella” are more grown-up.

Rami Malek

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Carly Chaikin and Rami Malek star in “Mr. Robot.”

Yay for Rami Malek for winning best actor at the Academy Awards! He was awesome in “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Not sci-fi of course, but so good. Watch him in the fourth and final season of “Mr. Robot” later this year.

I heard he is being sought to play a villain in a Bond movie, which is cool I guess? I feel like he’s proven he’s leading man material at this point though, so … wait for a better offer, Rami! (Not a Bond fan – sorry.)

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“Captain Marvel” opens this Friday! Did you buy your tickets yet? You won’t be able to see this on DVD if you want to see it before “Avengers: Endgame” comes out April 26.

In between the two Marvel films, check out the new “Hellboy” movie, opening April 12.

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“Game of Thrones” will return for its eighth season on April 14 on HBO. I’m so excited to see how it all ends, but also sad because this season will be the last.

Entertainment Weekly has a new feature story on the upcoming season. Head on over there if you want clues to what’s in store for our favorite characters. But be careful; you know what they say: The night is dark and full of spoilers.

https://ew.com/tv/2019/03/04/game-of-thrones-season-8-battle/

And if you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the new Season 8 trailer:

If you’re a “Dune” fan, you’ll be in for a Thanksgiving treat. Not this year though; a remake is scheduled to be in theaters Nov. 20, 2020. Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival,” “Blade Runner 2049”) will direct and lots of big names are rumored to be in talks (or are already attached) to star in the film, including Timothee Chalamet, Josh Brolin, Zendaya, Jason Momoa, Oscar Isaac, Javier Bardem, and Charlotte Rampling. Dune, for those who don’t know, began as a 1965 sci-fi novel by Frank Herbert, and the first adaptation, directed by David Lynch, was released in 1984.

Star Wars at Disneyland

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, a 14-acre, Star Wars-themed attraction being built at Disneyland in California and Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, will open this year. The one in California is scheduled to open May 31, and the Florida attraction will open Aug. 29 (though one of the rides is expected to open later in the year).

The new attraction will be designed as a “remote frontier outpost” on the planet Batuu, a newly designed world. Themed rides including Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance will be featured, as well as Oga’s Cantina, the first  location in Disneyland Park to sell alcoholic drinks.

If you’re not already broke from buying tickets to the park, you can also build your own droid or lightsaber. The cost will be around $160 for a lightsaber. (I haven’t seen any info on build a droid pricing.)

For more information, check out the Disney website: https://disneyparks.disney.go.com/star-wars-galaxys-edge/

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I’m so sad to hear about Luke Perry, who has passed away at the age of 52. I had the fortune of working as an extra on “Beverly Hills, 90210” several times, years ago, and Perry always seemed like a nice, down to earth guy.

Perry had a small role in one of my favorite movies, “The Fifth Element,” and also starred in the original (and in my opinion, superior) version of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and also “Riverdale.”

Rest in peace, Luke. We won’t forget you.

Credits: “The Umbrella Academy” photo and gif, Netflix; “The Umbrella Academy” comic book, by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá, Dark Horse Comics; “Mr. Robot,” NBC Universal Television; “Game of Thrones,” HBO. 

Post updated to include opening dates for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. 

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Lyonne does the time loop in her new series ‘Russian Doll’

What could be worse than dying on your birthday? How about dying on your birthday over and over and over and over? That’s the premise of the Netflix original series “Russian Doll.” The first season of the dark comedy, created by Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler, and Leslye Headland, was released Feb. 1.

Lyonne also stars in the series, as Nadia Vulvokov, a witty but troubled New Yorker who keeps dying and re-living her 36th birthday over and over. I’ve been a Lyonne fan ever since “Slums of Beverly Hills” in 1998 and I also love her in “Orange is the New Black,” so seeing her star in this crazy show is a special treat.

It’s great timing – Groundhog Day was Feb. 2, and it does sort of borrow the reset button from the Bill Murray film, but if we’re talking time loops, it’s really more “Edge of Tomorrow,” as Tom Cruise’s character’s day starts over when he dies, rather than the 6 a.m. automatic restart in “Groundhog Day.”

The difference here is an attempt to explain (with science!) why this is happening to her. Maybe it’s not so much a plot gimmick but an exploration of a scientific theory. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The series’ similarities to other movies don’t matter anyway; all you need to know is that it’s an entrancing and binge-worthy trip down a rabbit hole.

Besides the awesome Lyonne, the show also stars Greta Lee, Yul Vazquez, Elizabeth Ashley, Rebecca Henderson, and Charlie Barnett. Chloe Sevigny and Dascha Polanco also make guest appearances.

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Rebecca Henderson, Greta Lee, and Charlie Barnett in the trippy time loop series “Russian Doll.”

The Expanse

Amazon Prime will soon be streaming the first three seasons of the epic sci-fi series “The Expanse,” so get over there and catch up before the fourth season comes out later this year. The first season is a little confusing at first but don’t give up! It gets better, a lot better.

The third season will be available to stream on Feb. 8. Seasons 1 and 2 (already available in the U.S.) will become available internationally on Feb. 8 as well.

The series, about a future in which humans have colonized the solar system, is based on the books by James S.A. Corey (the joint pen name of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who also serve as writers and producers on the show).

There’s an amazing ensemble cast, great special effects, political intrigue, plot twists, love, war, laughter, tears. … You get the idea. Just go watch it.

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Dominique Tipper, Wes Chatham, Cas Anvar, and Steven Strait in “The Expanse.”

Chaos Walking

I previously reported that “Chaos Walking” would be out soon, but the film’s studio confirmed recently that the movie will not make its March release date. Bummer! But this gives you time to catch up on your reading – the movie is based on the books by Patrick Ness.

So far I’ve read the first two books in the trilogy, “The Knife of Never Letting Go” and “The Ask and the Answer.” If you’re a fan of “The Hunger Games,” you’ll probably like these too.

The film will star Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley, and Mads Mikkelsen.

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Speaking of books, I highly recommend “Circe,” by Madeline Miller. An epic story based on characters from Homer’s “The Odyssey” and Greek mythology, the tale is told from the viewpoint of the sorceress herself.

Miller’s beautiful writing takes you right into the story, and even at 400 pages, you won’t want to leave when it’s over.

The Titans and the gods and goddesses of Olympus, the demigods and the legends are written so eloquently but are also accessible at the same time. You may think it would be difficult to get into a book about a character whose father is Helios, aka the SUN, and whose aunt is Selene, the moon. But you find yourself thinking things like, “Wow, I never realized the sun is such a jerk. … 

It’s a timely novel, and one which I’d love to see adapted to the big (or small) screen. Fingers crossed.

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Circe was the subject of several paintings by John William Waterhouse. This one is “The Sorceress,” 1913.

Credits: “Russian Doll,” Netflix; “The Expanse,” Alcon Television Group; “Circe,” Little, Brown, and Company. 

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My 8 fave sci-fi films of 2018 and 9 I want to see in 2019

There were so many great films in theaters this year. Along with the hits were the misses – “Annihilation” made a lot of critics’ Top 10 lists but it veered too far into horror territory for my taste. “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” like so many blockbuster movies, was cool-looking but there wasn’t enough going on in the plot department. Without further ado, here are the sci-fi films I enjoyed most in 2018:

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“Black Panther” was really cool and like nothing else I’ve seen before. There’s no doubt this movie broke new ground: It was the ninth highest-grossing film of all time, the highest-grossing film ever by a black director, and the highest-grossing film in the United States in 2018.

It is the first blockbuster box office hit with a black superhero, but the best characters in “Black Panther,” in my opinion, are the women. This isn’t the first time on this blog I’ve sung the praises of Shuri, Okoye, and Nakia. I can’t wait for a “Black Panther” sequel.

Avengers: Infinity War

The latest Avengers was also epic – a culmination of many Marvel movies, the heroes all fighting a common enemy, Thanos, who collected six Infinity Stones from across the universe, giving him the power to destroy half of all life in the universe. I took my Marvel-loving nephew and we were on the edge of our seats. It was awesome, even if we felt a little gypped by that cliffhanger finale.

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I fell in love with Wade Wilson in the first Deadpool, and the sequel is even better. Ryan Reynolds is the perfect tragic antihero, and I’m a sap for the love story between him and his girlfriend Vanessa despite the writers’ choice to put her in the “refrigerator.” (Fridging refers to an overused plot device wherein a character, often the hero’s love interest, is killed off or otherwise incapacitated for the purpose of motivating said hero.) I haven’t had a chance yet to see the new PG-13 version (“Once Upon a Deadpool”), but so far I’m on board with the addition of Fred Savage. “The Princess Bride” is a favorite in our household.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

By now you all know I’m a big fan of Paul Rudd. Evangeline Lilly is a wonderful Wasp, and Michael Pena and his long-winded stories were just as funny in this film as they were in the first Ant-Man. (And also, they mention Morrissey. What!)

Solo: A Star Wars Story

“Solo” arrived with slightly less fanfare than previous installments of the franchise, but I liked it. You can read my review again here: https://earthtoshawna.com/2018/05/26/forget-that-ehrenreich-isnt-ford-go-see-solo-anyway/

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verselarge_spiderverse-poser

This just won a much-deserved Golden Globe for best animated motion picture, and in my opinion, it’s the best Spider-Man movie yet.

It’s not about Peter Parker this time, but Miles Morales, a teenager who gets bitten by a radioactive spider and discovers there can be more than one Spider-Man.

It aims to look like it’s been torn from the pages of a comic book, and it does. The computer animation is awesome, and the script is fresh and funny. With its PG rating, it’s clean enough that you can take the kids. For parents, it’s a win-win.

Ready Player One

I was really anticipating this one after I read the book, and it didn’t disappoint me. It’s not particularly deep or meaningful, but it’s a fun movie – especially for anyone who grew up in the ’80s.

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Where “Ready Player One” is fast-paced and in your face, “I Think We’re Alone Now” is a slow, steady burn. Would I have watched this if it didn’t have one of my favorite actors? Well, I have a thing for post-apocalyptic movies, so … yeah, probably. But I will be honest – I don’t think I would have liked it as much.

Dinklage is amazing as Del, a curmudgeonly librarian who seems to enjoy being the last man on Earth. Well, he thinks he’s the last person. Enter Grace (Elle Fanning), a Manic Pixie Dream Girl* who comes complete with fireworks to announce her arrival. A romantic comedy? No. It’s the end of the world and it’s dark and disturbing.

2019

There are lots of cool and crazy-looking movies coming out in 2019. We’re getting a new X-Men (“Dark Phoenix”), the final chapter in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable” trilogy, a new Godzilla movie, another Spidey, and new reboots of Terminator and Joker. There’s Sonic the Hedgehog and Pikachu for all you gamers out there; and let’s not forget live-action versions of “Dumbo,” “Lion King,” and “Aladdin”; and “Toy Story 4” and “Frozen 2.”

Here are the sci-fi films I am most looking forward to in the new year. (Release dates are subject to change.)

Replicas, coming Jan. 11

I’m beginning to wonder if this Keanu Reeves movie is even real. It’s been postponed so many times I think they are just messing with us at this point. But if/when it arrives in theaters, I’ll be there.

Chaos Walking (March 1)

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Tom Holland (“Spider–Man: Homecoming”) and Daisy Ridley (“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”) star in “Chaos Walking,” based on a book by Patrick Ness. Principal production wrapped in 2017 and the film is scheduled for a March release.

Based on the first book of a young adult sci-fi trilogy by Patrick Ness (“A Monster Calls”), the adaptation stars Daisy Ridley, Tom Holland, and Mads Mikkelsen in a dystopian film directed by Doug Liman (“Edge of Tomorrow,” “The Bourne Identity”).

The habitants of this dystopian world are afflicted with “Noise” – they hear and see the thoughts of other people, and even animals. It will be interesting to see how this translates to film.  I’ve only read the first book in the series so far, but it’s intense and addictive.

Captain Marvel (March 8)

There are multiple comic book characters named Captain Marvel, in both the DC and Marvel universes. (One of them is also known as Shazam, who also has a movie coming out this year.)

In this movie, it’s the Marvel superhero named Carol Danvers who becomes Captain Marvel and is played by Brie Larson.

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Nick Fury’s beeper shows he contacted Captain Marvel in a post-credits scene from “Avengers: Infinity War.”

One of the post-credits scenes from “Avengers: Infinity War” shows Nick Fury attempting to contact – via some sort of beeper – Captain Marvel. The film is planned for a March 8 release, so we can get caught up on why Fury calls her, before we see the aftermath of Thanos’ snap, in “Endgame.”

Avengers: Endgame (April 26) 

One of the most anticipated films of 2019, “Endgame” is the sequel to “Infinity War.” We’ll finally find out what becomes of our favorite superheroes in the aftermath of Thanos’ destruction.

Hellboy (April 12)

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David Harbour will star in the “Hellboy” reboot. 

I had little desire to see a new Hellboy movie without Guillermo del Toro directing and Ron Perlman as Hellboy – until I heard David Harbour from “Stranger Things” would be playing the title role.

The film is a reboot rather than a sequel and also stars Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, and Daniel Dae Kim. Neil Marshall directs.

Men in Black: International (June 14)

It will be great to see Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson team up again, this time as secret agents. (They are Thor and Valkyrie in “Thor: Ragnarok.”) Liam Neeson and Emma Thompson also star.

Gemini Man (Oct. 4)

Will Smith must have been too busy to reprise his role in MIB, as he is in three movies this year: “Aladdin,” “Spies in Disguise,” and “Gemini Man.” In “Gemini Man,” he plays an assassin threatened by a younger clone of himself, which was done already – in Rian Johnson’s 2012 film “Looper.” The draw here is that “Gemini Man” is directed by Ang Lee, who also directed “Life of Pi” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” so it makes my must-see list. The film also stars Benedict Wong (from “Doctor Strange”) and Clive Owen (“Children of Men”).

Zombieland 2 (Oct. 11)

I’m not a big fan of zombie flicks, but I make an exception for zom-coms starring Jesse Eisenberg, who I’ll watch in (almost) anything. Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Abigail Breslin and Bill Murray also return for this sequel to the 2009 film, and Dan Aykroyd will also appear.

Star Wars: Episode IX (Dec. 20)

The Skywalker Saga wraps up with this still-untitled episode. Yep, this is the last movie in the third Star Wars trilogy. There will be more Star Wars films, but the adventures of Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren, and Poe Dameron will reportedly conclude here. Billy Dee Williams will reprise his role as Lando Calrissian, and previously recorded footage of Carrie Fisher will be used in the film. J.J. Abrams directs.

Photo credits: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Sony Pictures Releasing; “Black Panther,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; “Deadpool 2,” 20th Century Fox; “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” Disney; “I Think We’re Alone Now,” Momentum Pictures; “Chaos Walking,” Lionsgate; “Avengers: Infinity War,” Disney; “Men in Black: International,” Sony; “Zombieland,” Columbia Pictures.

* Want to know more about overused plot devices? https://tvtropes.org/

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‘Saga’ leaves you wanting more but you’ll have to wait

“Saga” recently released its newest collection, “Volume 9,” which covers issues 49 through 54 of the award-winning comic book by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.

If you haven’t read it yet (and you’re over the age of 18) I highly recommend you check it out. There’s a reason “Saga” is hugely popular and critically acclaimed. Even though it’s been compared to such epics as “Star Wars” and “Game of Thrones,” Vaughan’s imaginative story, accomapanied by Staples’ amazing artwork, is really like nothing else. Well, it’s a little bit Romeo and Juliet – Alana and Marko are alien lovers from warring worlds. Their daughter, Hazel, is the comic’s narrator.

After the latest major bombshell cliffhanger, at the end of #54, Vaughan and Staples have announced they’re taking a yearlong hiatus. Staples has said she was experiencing feelings of burnout – understandable as she’s drawn and colored all 54 issues.

If you haven’t picked up “Saga” yet, this is a great time to catch up! It’s really weird and cool. You can read my previous review here:

https://earthtoshawna.com/2015/09/16/dont-miss-image-comics-saga-and-rat-queens/

While the comic is set in a fictional universe, the themes of parenting and family are, well, universal. Vaughan doesn’t shy away from topics like war, abortion, addiction, racism, homophobia, sex trafficking, etc., so these themes are underlying the larger story and ask the big questions.

How do you raise a child to be kind and strong in a world (or worlds) that can be so brutal? Can we teach our kids what they need to know while at the same time protecting them?

How can we be compassionate when we don’t know who to trust? How can we keep going when everything is spinning out of control?

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“Saga, Volume 9” was released Sept. 26 (Image Comics). Vol. 9 collects issues 49 through 54 of the award-winning comic by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.

“Saga” spans several years and has lots of crazy-looking alien characters – I guess that’s why it’s being compared to “Star Wars.” But don’t expect to see this story on the big screen anytime soon. Vaughan created this to be a comic only, not to be adapted into a movie or TV show. For starters, there’s a lot of sex and violence. (Like, a lot.) And if it was a movie, it would have to be animated, or use a heck of a lot of CGI.

Vaughan hasn’t completely ruled out an adaptation, but that’s not something he’s looking at right now. One thing that is being adapted to TV is Vaughan’s comic “Y: The Last Man,” which I loved. Let’s talk about that.

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‘Y: The Last Man’

Vaughan’s “Y: The Last Man,” published by Vertigo Comics and illustrated by Pia Guerra, takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth. A plague wipes out every mammal with a Y chromosome, except for a man named Yorick Brown and his Capuchin monkey, Ampersand.

Yorick’s mother, a congresswoman, commissions a special agent to protect her son. Along with a geneticist named Alison Mann, they work to find a way to save humankind from extinction. During their travels, the group is chased by several people who want Yorick for their own purposes.

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The comic series, which ran from 2002 to 2008, won three Eisner awards. Filming on the live-action TV series has begun and will star Diane Lane, Imogen Poots, Lashana Lynch, Juliana Canfield, and Marin Ireland. Barry Keoghan will star as Yorick. The show will be on FX, but there is no premiere date yet.

Mark your calendars

In my excitement about the upcoming “Captain Marvel” film that I talked about in my last post, I forgot to tell you that it opens March 8, 2019, which also happens to be International Women’s Day. captain-marvel-brie-larson

“Wonder Woman 1984” comes out Nov. 1, 2019. And “Birds of Prey” is slated for a Feb. 7, 2020, release.

I also have more casting news for “Birds of Prey.” Margot Robbie will reprise her role as Harley Quinn from “Suicide Squad,” and Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Rosie Perez will portray Black Canary, Huntress, and The Question. Christina Hodson is the screenwriter, and Cathy Yan will direct.

In other Warner Bros. news, another of my favorite Vertigo comic books, “Fables,” is also being adapted to the big screen. Nikolaj Arcel is signed on to direct, Jeremy Slater is screenwriter. Fables Vol. 3-Storybook Love

“Fables” was created by Bill Willingham in 2002 and is about fairy tale characters who are exiled from their lands and now live in New York City. If this sounds familiar, it’s because the comic was in development to become an NBC TV series, but that was scrapped, and NBC later produced a show called “Grimm” instead. Then ABC was going to adapt “Fables” but later ended up making “Once Upon a Time.” Here’s hoping the third time’s a charm.

Credits: “Saga,” Image Comics; “Y: The Last Man” and “Fables,” Vertigo; “Captain Marvel,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

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More female-led films and TV series – a welcome trend

There are so many reasons I love sci-fi. One of the main reasons is that it’s an escape – from the senseless stuff going on in the world and in the news and, at times, in our own lives. It might just be a temporary escape, but I love that there are all these alternate, fictional universes out there, and I can check in and out of them anytime my brain needs a break from the real world.

And I know I’ve said it before, but I love superhero movies because there is always someone fighting for justice and giving us the happy endings we don’t often get in real life. OK, maybe not always (*cough, cough* “Infinity War”). But you catch my drift.

One of the things going on in science fiction right now makes me really happy: the trend of female characters getting their own movies. I am still giddy over the Wonder Woman movie that came out last year, and I’m also excited for the Wonder Woman sequel coming out next year.

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Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in “Wonder Woman 1984.”

The sequel will be set in 1984, which in itself is soooo rad. I really love Gal Gadot as the Amazonian warrior princess, I’m thrilled that Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, and Robin Wright will also be reprising their roles, and I’m particularly intrigued about the news that Kristen Wiig will star as archaeologist Barbara Minerva, aka Cheetah, because even though I haven’t read much DC stuff, I did actually read some of the “Wonder Woman: DC Universe Rebirth” comics, and Cheetah is featured in those so I actually know who she is. And also Kristen Wiig is so cool.

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Marvel Comics’ Cheetah will appear in the new Wonder Woman movie, coming in 2019.

Why oh why must we wait so long till the movie comes out? I will have to just content myself with watching my Wonder Woman DVD for the 20th time. …

On the Marvel side, we were treated to some awesome girl power in “Black Panther.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought Shuri, Okoye, and Nakia were the best characters in the film. I would love to see one or all of them heading their own movie in the future.

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Danai Gurira as Okoye in “Black Panther.”

We also finally got to see Evangeline Lilly turn into the Wasp in “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” What a fun, and funny, movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out. And don’t miss the ever-present Marvel post-credits scenes – there’s a tie-in to “Infinity War.”

Speaking of “Infinity War,” I’m really looking forward to seeing another character, who was alluded to at the end, in her own movie – Captain Marvel! I haven’t read any of the Captain Marvel comics – yet – but I love Brie Larson and the trailer looks super cool. The movie is set in the ’90s, in case you’re wondering why she crashes into a Blockbuster Video (or why Nick Fury still has two eyes).

I know that cool, ass-kicking women in sci fi are not necessarily new. One of my all-time favorite TV series, “Battlestar Galactica,” was a remake that made tough Viper pilot Starbuck a female character instead of a man (like in the 1970s series). Before that, we had Ripley in “Alien” and Sarah Connor in “Terminator.”

But more often than not, women are the girlfriend of the hero, or the token female on the boys team – and not always the most interesting of the bunch (sorry Black Widow). So it seems sort of groundbreaking to have Wonder Woman (finally!) and Captain Marvel movies.

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Brie Larson stars in “Captain Marvel.”

In fact, “Captain Marvel” will be the first female-led film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yep. The 20 MCU movies so far have all been about the dudes – Thor, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Ant-Man, Hulk, Captain America, and Black Panther – or an ensemble cast – Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers. (I’m not counting “Elektra,” as it was distributed by 20th Century Fox and therefore not officially an MCU film.) I guess Disney needed Warner Bros. to show them women superheroes can bring in the big box office bucks.

In addition to the Wonder Woman sequel, Warner Bros. is also working on “Birds of Prey,” an ensemble film of DC Comics’ female heroes and villains. Margot Robbie will play Harley Quinn again, and is also signed on as co-producer. Just how closely the movie follows the comic, or the 2002 TV series, remains to be seen.

Buzz about the movie so far suggests the cast will be more diverse than previous iterations, which is good news (and perhaps an indication that Disney schooled Warner Bros. with the success of “Black Panther.”) Filming is expected to begin early next year.

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DC Comics’ “Birds of Prey” is being adapted into a film by Warner Bros.

It may seem like women as comic heroes is a new phenomenon, but it dates back a lot further. I recently watched an inspiring and informative documentary on Netflix called “She Makes Comics,” and I highly recommend it. She-Makes-Comics-2

Women in comics talk all about their roles in the comic industry – as writers, illustrators, editors, fans, and cosplayers. And comic historians talk about the first women in the industry – waaaaay back in the 1930s!

The word “documentary” might make you think “boring,” but trust me when I say this is an engrossing film, and it’s only 73 minutes long. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

On the TV front, we have some really great women characters right now. While not a “female-led” series, per se, there are some powerful women in major roles on “The Expanse,” including an engineer, a captain, a gunnery sergeant, and a United Nations secretary-general.

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Shohreh Aghdashloo, Dominique Tipper, and Frankie Adams as UN Secretary-General Chrisjen Avasarala, engineer Naomi Nagata, and Martian Marine Gunnery Sgt. Bobbie Draper, on “The Expanse.”

The 13th doctor on “Doctor Who” is a woman, which is a first, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the female-led series “Jessica Jones,” “Agent Carter,” and “Supergirl,” although I admit I haven’t seen them. They’re getting pretty good reviews; one of these days I will get around to watching!

Next year we will have to say goodbye to some of the most bad-ass women in the fantasy genre when “Game of Thrones” concludes. Brienne of Tarth, Arya Stark, and Daenerys Targaryen were my favorite women on the HBO series.

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Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) will be missed, after HBO’s “Game of Thrones” airs its final season next year.

I’m really only scratching the surface here, talking about the faces that you see on the big and small screens. My friend and fellow blogger Lavender Vroman has her finger on the pulse of geek industry girl power. She blogs about and interviews women from across the spectrum of geekdom: fans, writers, illustrators, artists, fashion designers, models, cosplayers – the list goes on and on.

https://nomansland.blog/

You can also find Vroman’s work on the Hero Within blog:

https://herowithinstore.com/blogs/news

Credits: “Captain Marvel” photos and trailer, Star Wars gif, and “Black Panther” photo, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. “Wonder Woman 1984,” Warner Bros. Pictures. “Wonder Woman” and “Birds of Prey” art, DC Comics. “The Expanse,” Alcon Entertainment Group. “Game of Thrones,” HBO. “She Makes Comics,” XLrator Media. 

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Amazon picks up critically acclaimed series ‘The Expanse’

We have nearly come to the end of Season Three of my new favorite series, “The Expanse.” I’m sure I’m not alone in saying every season has been more exciting than the last! The plot, which was a bit confusing in Season One, is really suspenseful and original, and the characters’ varied personalities and motivations add a dimension of realism that is often lacking in the genre.

I honestly am counting down the days to the next episode, and I’m bummed that there are only three episodes left in this season.

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Shohreh Aghdashloo as the indomitable Chrisjen Avasarala is just one of many reasons to tune in to “The Expanse.”

Unfortunately, perhaps because the show took a while to hit its stride, it lost viewers and Syfy canceled the series on May 11. After news of the cancellation, fans began a campaign to save the show. Because Amazon already owned streaming rights for the show, it seemed like a good fit. The campaign included a petition that collected 150,000 signatures, and a GoFundMe page which collected money for a Save the Expanse banner to be flown over Amazon headquarters.

Some famous fans chimed in too. Rumor has it that Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, even received an email from Game of Thrones creator George R. R. Martin, asking him to save “The Expanse.”

The cast was recently at a conference for private space entrepreneurs, National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference, doing a panel on the science of “The Expanse,” when they heard the good news.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly on Wednesday, Steven Strait (who plays Jim Holden) explained: “We were there, essentially, just talking about the technicalities of shooting a space show with realistic science, and it just so happened that Jeff Bezos was there. We had planned this trip months ago. It was a total coincidence.”

Before dinner, Bezos told the cast he was a fan of the books and the show, and that he was trying to work something out to pick up the show. He emailed Jennifer Salke, the head of Amazon Studios, who had also been hearing great things about the show.

In an interview with Deadline, Salke said Bezos told her, “I’m at an event, a space seminar, I’m looking at the cast of ‘The Expanse’ here, I would like to get up there and order the show.” Once she gave Bezos the green light, he announced it on stage.

Strait said “he announced it right then and there on stage. Just completely took us by surprise. Just crazy excitement. It was a roar from the back of this room. We were just all so tremendously relieved that this insane campaign had worked.”

So are we. Here’s to Season Four!

If you’re not already a fan, you can catch up with “The Expanse” on Amazon (streaming), or on Netflix (DVD only).

Valhalla Renaissance Faire

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My honey and I dressed for the occasion. Arrrr!

While I was on vacation in South Lake Tahoe, I checked out the 25th annual Valhalla Renaissance Faire. I had never been to this particular Ren fair so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised at all they had to offer. While not as big as the fair in Irwindale, it was still a good-sized festival, in a beautiful location, and there was plenty to do, see, and buy.

There are about 800 costumed actors who bring the fair to life, and more than 100 vendors sold period attire and accessories, jewelry, swords, daggers, wands, and of course, food and drinks. Fairgoers could get their hair braided, play games, try their hand at archery, and be entertained by music, dancing, storytelling, puppet shows, jugglers, and – my personal favorite – a falconry show.

I highly recommend this fair if you’re planning a trip to Tahoe next year. Go in costume, and bring the kids. The festival runs every year for two weekends in May and/or June. For more information, go to valhallafaire.com.

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Daring Daniel daringly juggles knives while balancing on a rolling board!

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A beautiful owl was just one of the birds featured at the Full Circle Falconry show at the Valhalla Renaissance Faire in South Lake Tahoe. 

Photos: “The Expanse,” Alcon Television Group; Valhalla Renaissance Faire photos by Earth to Shawna. img_20170119_202601

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Brush up on your Infinity Stone knowledge before ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

Nine more days till “Infinity War”! I don’t normally count down the days to superhero flicks, but this one is special because it has everyone in it – the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy, but also Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and even Ant-Man and Spider-Man.

If you haven’t seen all the Marvel movies, or you just want to brush up on the history of the Infinity Stones before the new movie, I’ll give you a little background, and a few recommendations on what to watch/re-watch before you see the new film.

If you’ve seen “Guardians of the Galaxy,” you may remember Benicio del Toro’s character, Taneleer Tivan, aka the Collector, talking about the Infinity Stones. He said, “Before creation itself, there were six singularities. Then the universe exploded into existence, and the remnants of these systems were forged into concentrated ingots. Infinity Stones.”

That explains everything we need to know about these gems. Just kidding; it explains nothing. Suffice it to say they’re powerful relics that superheroes and supervillains fight over like third-graders fighting over a Nintendo controller.

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The Collector, played by Benicio del Toro, “explains” the Infinity Stones. 

The blue Space Stone was used by the Red Skull in “Captain America: The First Avenger,” and it’s used to generate wormholes in “The Avengers.” It is housed in the Tesseract. The yellow Mind Stone is in Loki’s scepter in “The Avengers” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” The red Reality Stone was formed into a weapon called the Aether, and was entrusted to the Collector at the end of “Thor: The Dark World.” The purple Power Stone is contained inside an orb which is central to the plot of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” The green Time Stone was encased in the Eye of Agamotto. A master of the mystic arts can use it to manipulate time. It appears in “Doctor Strange.” Not much is known about the orange Soul Stone; maybe we’ll learn more about it in the new movie.

No one has time to watch all 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe before the new movie comes out (or maybe you do – I don’t know your life). But I have narrowed it down to the basics. These are my personal recommendations, which I’ve chosen because they mention Infinity Stones, but also because they’re really fun movies. In order of release, they are “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Doctor Strange,” and “Thor: Ragnarok.”

I also recommend “Black Panther,” because T’Challa/Black Panther, as well as several other characters from that movie, will appear in “Infinity War,” and their country, Wakanda, plays a big role in the new film too. Plus it’s just a really awesome movie. Unfortunately, the “Black Panther” DVD won’t be released until May 15, but you may be able to catch a Marvel marathon near you. (Check your local theater listings.)

“Avengers: Infinity War” will be released April 27.

The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire

If you didn’t get tickets to this year’s Ren Faire, it’s not too late. The faire, in Irwindale, runs every weekend through May 20. This weekend (April 21 and 22) is RennCon™ weekend! The faire offers different themed weekends; RennConn™ is a celebration of “cosplay in all its forms.”

Time traveler weekend (including a steampunk costume contest) is May 5 and 6, and Heroes & Villains is May 12 and 13. For more information, go to http://renfair.com/socal/special-events/

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The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire, in Irwindale. 

Photos: “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; Renaissance Faire photo by Earth to Shawna. 

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Virtual reality movie ‘Ready Player One’ is a fun ride

READY. PLAYER. ONE.

I’ve been excited about this ever since I heard they were making it into a movie (it was a novel first – by Ernest Cline).

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When I heard it was going to be directed by none other than Steven Spielberg, my first thought was Wow, Spielberg! That’s perfect! And then my next thought was that I’m not a huge Spielberg fan. So I had my misgivings. Were they going to mess this up?

The main character is an orphaned teenager named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), who is competing in a 1980s-themed  VR contest – in the year 2044. The winner will inherit the fortune of the contest’s deceased creator, James Halliday, a Willy Wonka-esque character who created the virtual reality world OASIS.

OASIS is where much of the story takes place, which I imagined could translate to the big screen in a really awesome way – or it could look totally lame.

Luckily, the special effects were great. My other concern was that there are usually two issues with reading the book first. One: I already know what’s going to happen. And two: “That’s not how it was in the book!” Well there’s really no worries about that here. It was still exciting, even though I already knew the plot, and at this point, I understand that they need to change it up from novel to screenplay. As long as it works, I’m happy. And aside from a few minor gripes, it does work.

It’s clever, it’s funny, and it’s a little trip down memory lane for anyone who grew up in the 1980s, because ’80s movie and video game references abound. “Back to the Future,” “Iron Giant,” “Gremlins,” “Star Trek,” “Star Wars” – you will catch snippets of these and many more throughout, but it’s subtle enough as to not be too distracting.

You don’t need to be an ’80s kid to enjoy this movie. The rumor about this being a pop-culture overdose was premature. The ’80s stuff is just background/setting and not the story. (I don’t understand people bitching about this before the movie was even released?)

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Art3mis and Parzival in “Ready Player One.”

For a movie that celebrates ’80s nostalgia, the soundtrack should have been better. There are a couple gems (including New Order’s “Blue Monday”), but the track list is phoned in and too short, especially for such a long movie.

It clocks in at 140 minutes, but it’s so fast-paced you probably won’t notice (unless you have to pee). The pacing is actually perfect, and it’s enough time for our heroes to get to know each other in between all the racing around.

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Tye Sheridan and Lena Waithe

Their friendship is central to the story, and Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, and Lena Waithe were well cast and seem to click. The villains were a little clichéd; Wade’s nemesis, Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), is like a high school principal in a John Hughes film but maybe that’s fitting.

“Ready Player One” isn’t deep or profound, but it’s fun, especially if you don’t mind a sprinkle of Spielbergian cheese on the second half of your movie.

Moving on …

‘The Expanse’

I did not read this book series, which is set in a future where humans have colonized the solar system. I was kind of confused/bored at first, but I stuck with it and my patience paid off. This is one of the most interesting, suspenseful series I’ve seen in a long time.

In case you haven’t heard me sing this show’s praises already: It has all the ingredients you want in a sci-fi show – great writing and effects, complex characters, a diverse and talented cast, moral dilemmas, plot twists, drama, suspense, humor. But what I like best about “The Expanse” is that it’s not like anything else – a refreshing change of pace in this era of remakes and sequels.

Season 3 of “The Expanse” premieres April 11 on Syfy.

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Dominique Tipper and Steven Strait star in “The Expanse.”

A match made in the Star Trek Universe

Terry Farrell (Jadzia Dax from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) and Adam Nimoy (Leonard Nimoy’s son) tied the knot on Monday, which would have been Leonard Nimoy’s 87th birthday. They went public with their relationship at the Star Trek convention in Vegas last year. Live long and prosper, newlyweds!

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Photos: Ready Player One, Warner Bros. Pictures; The Expanse, Syfy; Terry Farrell/Adam Nimoy photo by Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock

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What to watch/read: ‘Black Panther,’ ‘How To Stop Time’

I know, I know. I haven’t posted in a while. But I’m still here! And I’ve been watching a lot of sci-fi stuff that I can’t wait to share with you, so let’s get started:

First, we need to talk about “Black Panther.” If you’re wondering if this movie is worthy of the hype, the answer is yes. Yes it is.

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Girl power! Lupita Nyong’o and Letitia Wright in “Black Panther.”

I love origin stories, and this one was no exception. It’s beautiful, for starters. The Kingdom of Wakanda blew me away, and the costumes are breathtaking. I went into this movie not knowing much about the comic so it was fun and surprising and I was on the edge of my seat, wondering what was going to happen next. I’ll give you a little bit of backstory:

Black Panther, aka King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is the leader of Wakanda, an African nation which is every bit as fascinating as the superhero himself. Hundreds of years ago, Wakanda was hit by a meteorite containing vibranium, a metal which, unknown to the rest of the world, has given the Wakandan people the ability to create advanced technology, and which also affects an indigenous “heart-shaped herb,” which is ingested by the king and gives him the superhuman abilities that make him a total bad-ass.

Of course, the tech doesn’t hurt either. His little sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) is the Tony Stark-like genius behind T’Challa’s suits/gadgets. And as awesome as Black Panther is, it’s really the women I admired most in this film. I really want to tell you about them but I don’t want to give away anymore. Suffice it to say there are some interesting twists and turns, some laughs and a lot of heart. (And lots of girl power!) Just take my advice and go see it.

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Sam Rockwell in “Moon.”

The next thing I want to talk to you about is “Mute” (Netflix).  I was so excited about this, because it’s directed by Duncan Jones (David Bowie’s son!), who also directed one of my favorite movies, “Moon.”

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Paul Rudd in “Mute.”

“Mute,” on the other hand, is one of those movies where you’re like WTF is happening right now and where is this even going?

Alexander Skarsgard stars as a mute bartender searching for his missing girlfriend, but Paul Rudd steals the show as an unhinged surgeon named Cactus Bill, who makes you laugh but in an awkward, uncomfortable way that makes you wonder if you should really be laughing. Rudd is good though, and you’ll probably completely forget the plot while you’re watching him.

I will confess the main reason I wanted to see this movie is because I was promised more Sam Rockwell and I would like to say I was not disappointed but I was totally disappointed; Rockwell appears in “Mute” for about three seconds.

I liked the ending of “Mute,” if that counts for anything. (Does it?)

Next up, let’s talk about “Electric Dreams.” I was even more excited about this series than I was about “Mute.” Unfortunately, I was equally disappointed.

I had high hopes because each episode is (loosely) based on a different story by Philip K. Dick, whose stories have been previously adapted to the films “Blade Runner,” “Minority Report,” “Total Recall,” etc. He’s been called “the father of modern science fiction,” to give you an idea of his influence.

The first “Electric Dreams” episode, “Real Life,” was just OK. It’s been done before and it’s been done better (in the aforementioned “Total Recall”). I kept thinking, I really hope the second episode is better.

It was. “Autofac” is set in a post-apocalyptic world (and you know I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic worlds), where a group of survivors are trying to figure out how to shut off a factory that keeps sending them stuff they don’t need. (It’s hard to believe this was based on a story written in 1955. Did Dick predict Amazon Prime?)

That’s all I’ve seen so far – the first two episodes. I’ll update if/when I see more.

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Juno Temple and Janelle Monae in “Electric Dreams.”

Moving on.

I recently read a novel called “How To Stop Time,” by Matt Haig. The main character, Tom Hazard, has a condition that causes his body to age much slower than the rest of us. He’s actually over 400 years old, even though he looks like he’s in his 40s.

It’s tempting to make comparisons to Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, but Tom is not a vampire. He’s very human, and that is sort of the theme. What makes us human? What makes life worth living? It’s deep, but it’s also accessible and fun.

A film adaptation is in the works, with Benedict Cumberbatch starring as Tom. I loved Cumberbatch in “Doctor Strange,” and I am looking forward to seeing this story on the big screen.

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The 90th Academy Awards

As I mentioned earlier, I love Sam Rockwell, so I was very happy last night when he won a best supporting actor Oscar for his role in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”! Also I love that Frances McDormand won – she’s amazing. It’s not sci-fi so I haven’t discussed “Three Billboards” on my blog, but I highly recommend it. It’s very powerful and moving.

Guillermo del Toro won best director and his film “The Shape of Water” won best picture! Congratulations, Guillermo! If you missed my review of his art exhibit at the LACMA, check it out here:

https://earthtoshawna.com/2016/08/15/new-lacma-exhibit-a-must-for-guillermo-del-toro-fans/

I loved his acceptance speech at the awards ceremony, which he ended by saying, “I want to tell you, everyone that is dreaming of a parable, of using genre and fantasy to tell the stories about the things that are real in the world today, you can do it. This is a door. Kick it open and come in.”

“Black Panther” photos, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; “Moon,” Sony Pictures Classics; “Mute,” Netflix; “Electric Dreams,” Sony Pictures Television; “How to Stop Time,” Viking. 

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Mark your calendar for new and returning sci-fi TV series

OK, I need to move on and accept that we won’t get any new “Game of Thrones” for a long time.  To console myself, well, there are so many sci-fi shows on TV and streaming right now, I can’t keep up with everything I want to see.

Let’s start with the ones I already know are good:

“Travelers” will have its Season 2 premiere on Showcase in Canada on Oct. 16, followed by a Netflix release. If you haven’t seen this trippy time-travel series, starring Eric McCormack, I recommend you start from the beginning. You can watch Season 1 on Netflix.  

“People of Earth” is wrapping up Season 2 (the finale will air Sept. 25), but if you’re new to this quirky comedy, you can go back and start at the beginning. I myself missed the beginning, so I need to go back and catch up on the episodes I missed. The series is about a support group called “StarCrossed,” for people who have been abducted by aliens. It’s on TBS.

“Stranger Things” will return to Netflix on Oct. 27. The first season of this retro ’80s sci-fi/horror series was really cool and intense, but it scared the hell out of me. Season 2 is supposed to be “darker” than Season 1. I’m not sure how much darker this show can get. We’ll see if I’m brave enough to find out.

“Mr. Robot” will be back Oct. 11.  I’m not usually into psychological thrillers, but this one has this crazy “V for Vendetta” vibe, and it also has Christian Slater. So check it out! You can find the trailer for Season 3 on USA Network’s website:

http://www.usanetwork.com/mrrobot/videos/mr-robot-season-3-trailer

Here are the series I haven’t seen yet, but that are on my to-watch list:

“Star Trek: Discovery” will be set a decade prior to the original “Star Trek” series and will star Sonequa Martin-Green (“The Walking Dead”). I’m glad they’re going with a female lead. (I loved Capt. Janeway.) I was excited about this series – until I found out if I want to watch it, I’ll have to subscribe to CBS All Access. The premiere episode will be on TV at least: at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 24 on CBS.

“The Orville” is a sci-fi comedy-drama created by, and starring, Seth MacFarlane. With an ensemble cast (including Adrianne Palicki, Penny Johnson Jerald, Victor Garber, and Chad Coleman) and big-name guest stars (Charlize Theron, Simon Pegg) slated to appear, not to mention several Star Trek vets (Brannon Braga, Jonathan Frakes, James L. Conway, and Robert Duncan McNeill) directing, this one seems like a guaranteed hit. We’ll see. It premieres Sept. 10 on Fox.

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“The Orville” premieres Sept. 10 on Fox.

“Future Man” looks promising. The synopsis on the Hulu site says, “A janitor by day/world-ranked gamer by night is tasked with preventing the extinction of humanity after mysterious visitors from the future proclaim him the key to defeating the imminent super-race invasion.” Sounds intense, but Seth Rogen produces/directs, so you know it’s probably going to be funny and/or raunchy. Josh Hutcherson (“Hunger Games”) stars. Look for it Nov. 14.

“Doctor Who” is one I haven’t watched in a while, but they got my attention when they announced they cast a woman, Jodie Whittaker, to play the 13th doctor. Whittaker will take over the role from Peter Capaldi in the Christmas special episode “Twice Upon a Time” (BBC America).

I don’t have a release date yet, but “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams” is supposed to be coming soon to Amazon Prime (or Channel 4 if you’re in the UK, and Stan if you’re in Australia). The first season will have 10 standalone episodes, each one inspired by one of Dick’s stories. Bryan Cranston produces and stars in the series, which also features Anna Paquin, Steve Buscemi, Juno Temple, Greg Kinnear, and Janelle Monáe.

Photos: “Stranger Things,” Netflix; “The Orville,” Fox.

 

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