IMAGI-TV: Is There In Truth, No Originality?

Fred-TVGreetings, Friends & Fiends! Ye Olde Dragon with the inaugural column on what I’ve dubbed “Imagi-TV” – basically Genre TV, be it animated, live action, comic book based, movie based, etc – in the same vein as “Imagi-Movies”, dubbed by Forrest J. Ackerman to describe science-fiction, horror & fantasy films under one term.

Let’s face it, with the success of The CW‘s mega-hit, ARROW and ABC‘s AGENTS of S.H.I.E.L.D., we’re seeing a surge of Super Hero (or simply comic book based) shows the likes of which has not been seen , since the flood of Hanna-Barbera and Filmation Super Hero cartoons of the late 60s, the difference being that we’re talking about live-action shows. This fall, Fox has a pre-Batman, young Bruce Wayne growing up in GOTHAM. DC‘s resident snide supernaturalist John CONSTANTINE will debut on NBC. THE FLASH returns to the airwaves after almost two decades on the CW, in a shared universe show with the aforementioned ARROW. Word comes from Hollywood that TNT (also owned by DC parent company Warner Bros.) has a TITANS series, centered on Dick Grayson as Nightwing in development. ABC also has AGENT 13, which tells the story of the creation of S.H.I.E.L.D. following WWII, on tap as a mid-season hiatus replacement show.

Add into this, the multiple Netflix-exclusive Marvel Hero series (DAREDEVIL, LUKE CAGE, IRON FIST & JESSICA JONES), which will culminate in a DEFENDERS series, ALL of which will take place within the shared universe of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

There’s also plenty of supernatural goings on with almost every network having some sort of vampire or demonic themed show airing at various times during the year.

Mix into that, some new animated fare, like the eagerly anticipated STAR WARS: REBELS premiering next month on Disney XD, and there’s plenty of ground to cover. There’s going to be a lot to talk about and I hope you’ll join me and even join in on the discussion!

dragondivider1Now onto the topic of tonight’s post.

Variation.

Homage.

Inspired by.

In the spirit of.

These are words and phrases used when someone tries to justify comparisons between something of their creation and something that someone else had done before. Case in point – a few years back, I ranted on Facebook about the seemingly blatant ripoff of Disney‘s JAKE LONG – AMERICAN DRAGON by Cartoon Network‘s THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUNIPER LEE. I mean, when you line them up together:

JAKE is a Junior High School student. He has supernatural powers that’s skipped a generation & must take up his grandfather’s place as the Defender of the Magical World and the line of defense for the ‘Real’ World. His training is assisted by a talking dog with a Brooklyn accent and he has two friends who help him out, who at first don’t know his secret. He also has a sister that has the same powers, but is more proficient in some areas than he is.

JUNIPER is a Junior High School student with supernatural powers that’s skipped a generation & must take her grandmother’s place as the stopgap between the “Monster Realm” and the ‘Real’ World.  Her training is assisted by a talking dog with a Scottish accent and she has a friend who helps her, that didn’t know the secret at first. She has a little brother who can also see magical things and might prove to have more powers.

Coincidence? You make that call.

The subject for tonight’s column is the latest slew of shows that reek of unoriginality. Disney is once more the victim (though one could argue that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery), though the perp this time is Nick. This is especially telling because of tonight’s season and series premieres of Nick’s Saturday night lineup. Let me give you the most egregious ‘homage’ first. Tell me if this premise sounds familiar.

A family has a secret. Members of the family have special powers and abilities that they keep hidden from the rest of the ‘normal’ world, including their closest friends. The kids are constantly training to learn their craft – one is conscientious and follows the rules to a tee while the other is constantly using their powers for shortcuts and to gain advantages, while a younger sibling is a bit on the gullible side. The mother is a very pretty and savvy Latina and the dad is a stocky, fair haired man who’s a bit on the goofy side. Oh and there’s a secret lair in the house where the kids can go and practice (or scheme).

I have no doubt that many of you are thinking that the show I’m describing is Disney’s WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE. Ordinarily, you’d be right, but I am in fact describing Nick’s sophomore entry, The THUNDERMANS. The differences are minor (in my opinion) but will no doubt be defended by any fans the show may have.

I say, “may have,” because I couldn’t even sit through the series premiere this past winter. I was done after fifteen minutes. The acting is awful and the effects are horrendous.

The differences: The whole Thunderman family has powers, whereas in WOWP, only the kids had powers, competing to become the family wizard; The brother is the ne’er do well (who actually wants to be a villain) as opposed to the sister, Alex (who was only lazy, not bad – no matter how many times she was tempted), on WOWP; the basement lair is what the brother uses for his ‘secret villain training’, as opposed to the Wizard Lair, dimensionally hidden in the deli’s freezer, where the kids work on their training for the competition.

To me it sounds like someone basically went into a programming meeting at Nick, saying, “Let’s do Wizards of Waverly Place, since that’s ending on Disney Channel, but make it with a family of Super Heroes instead of Wizards.”

What, you mean like THE INCREDIBLES? Yes. I went there.

But Nick’s purloining the Disney playbook doesn’t end there.

Disney XD started a very popular show last fall about two normal junior high school students who accidentally stumbled into a hospital that treats Super Heroes – which they thought only existed in comics. Because of their help in a crisis, they’re the first “Normos” (non-powered humans) ever to be hired on by MIGHTY MED. The hitch? The existence of Super Heroes is a big secret. To the world, they only exist as comic characters and the boys can’t tell anyone, even their parents. The truth is, is that the comics are what funds all of the Super activities and organizations, reflecting what turns out to be the real adventures of the characters in them. The second season is due to start later this fall.

Tonight, Nick is debuting the series HENRY DANGER, taking place after the pilot ‘movie’ (let’s be honest, it was only the 45 minute long first episode of the show, not a ‘movie’) depicting a kid who stumbles into the world of Super Heroes and ends up being hired as the sidekick of a hero named Captain Man (really??). He has to keep the secret from everyone, including his parents.

Granted, it’s not as blatant a ripoff as Thundermans is of WOWP, but it’s definitely in the ‘in the spirit of‘ department.

Then there’s the premise of “Let’s double the situation for twice the hijinks” department. This might be more of a stretch, but the timing is still there. Earlier this year, Disney created a show for KICKIN’ IT‘s Olivia Holt, wherein she plays half of a set of fraternal twins who are constantly getting into trouble with their friends, called I DIDN’T DO IT! Nick is debuting a new show tonight called NICKY, RICKY, DICKY and DAWN about a set of fraternal quadruplets that are constantly getting into trouble. Like I said, not blatant, but the premise is merely doubled. Also, Ricky AND Dicky? Do the writers realize this means both kids are named RICHARD, but just with different nicknames?

The bottom line is this, in my opinion, Nick is in big trouble. Last fall, they couldn’t come up with something new, so they tried to cash in on the popularity of its recently ended teen hits I CARLY and VICTORIOUS by combining the two shows’ second bananas into the short lived SAM AND CAT. Then when they DO present new shows, they’re pretty much lifted from successful Disney series. Once they were a pillar of innovation and originality with shows like FAIRLY ODD PARENTS, DANNY PHANTOM and DOUG. Now, they air shows that are mostly based on licensed properties, such as shows based on Dreamworks‘ films (all repeats now) and TMNT. They’ve shown few new episodes of SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS (spread out over years, to always have something ‘new’ to air as an event). Their other hit original series, LEGEND OF KORRA, is itself a spinoff from AVATAR – THE LAST AIR BENDER. There’s also THE HAUNTED HATHAWAYS, I suppose, about two families sharing a house – one being the ghosts of the previous tenants – but even that premise can be found in the likes of BEETLEJUICE and THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR.

If Nick wants to survive, they need to come up with something, and not something taken, inspired, borrowed or in the spirit of anything Disney has done, or is doing. I can’t pretend to know how hard it is to come up with something completely, 100% original for TV, but some of these are TOO close to the ‘inspiration’. That could have been overcome with even a modicum of effort and imagination.

Note: The title of tonight’s column is indeed ‘inspired’ by the title of an episode of STAR TREKIS THERE IN TRUTH, NO BEAUTY?

Purposely Ironic.

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