5 reasons to watch CLASS, Patrick Ness’s DOCTOR WHO spinoff

In truth, there are so many more than just five reasons to watch CLASS.

Class logo

It’s beyond awesome. It’s extraordinary TV. It’s not just in the highest echelon of DOCTOR WHO storytelling, it’s in the highest echelon of TV storytelling… of ANY storytelling of any kind. The show is thrilling, exhilarating, hilarious, emotional, terrifying and utterly, utterly grounded in the authentic lives of five teenagers at the newly remodeled Coal Hill Academy… which just happens to have a rip in space-time that lets through all kinds of horrors.

Here are the five most pressing reasons for you to watch.

THE CAST

Class - Ep6

The cast of CLASS is a truly bad-ass collection of excellent actors. They all play wounded characters with complex lives and pasts, and they do it brilliantly, with everyone bringing just the right balance of humor and ALL THE EMOTIONS and copious amounts of badassery. That’s a tricky and delicate balance, but they all do it: Sophie Hopkins as April, the nice girl who’s anything but meek, Fady Elsayed as Ram, the tormented, anguished soccer star (football in the UK btw), Greg Austin as the uptight Charlie who’s carrying cosmic levels of baggage, Vivian Oprah as Tanya, grieving for the loss of her father and struggling with being a 14 year-old in a class of 17 year-olds, and Jordan Renzo as Matteusz, Charlie’s Polish boyfriend, and in some ways the moral center of the show. That’s the gang. But we can’t forget the sinister, spiky Miss Quill, played with delicious malevolence by the fantastic Katherine Kelly, who brings rage, nonchalance, and pathos to a powerhouse of a role. Quite possibly the best line-readings you’ll find anywhere on TV in 2017. In fact, without a doubt the best. An iconic performance that rivals any in the DOCTOR WHO universe.

Class Quill

THE STORYTELLING

It’s hard to talk about the storytelling on this show without (a) destroying my thesaurus in search of enough superlatives and (b) giving anything away. Suffice it to say, the level of storytelling in this show is amongst the best we’ve ever seen from DOCTOR WHO.

Class Ram

Awesome storytelling very much pictured.

There are individual episodes of CLASS that are top 5 of any in the Whoniverse. The overall arc shifts and evolves powerfully, driving all 8 episodes (each of which works so brilliantly alone but still form part of a stunning whole) to a jaw-dropping, head-spinning, gut-punching finale that BEGS FOR ANOTHER SEASON DO YOU HEAR ME BBC AND BBC AMERICA???? As writer and showrunner Patrick Ness himself put it on Twitter…

Speaking of Mr. Ness…

PATRICK NESS

The rhinoceros-loving, permanently blue polo-beshirted YA megastar author who brought us the stunning CHAOS WALKING trilogy—as well as the frankly traumatic A MONSTER CALLS (novel and screenplay), brilliant sci-fi/contemporary masterpieces MORE THAN THIS and THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE, and the forthcoming RELEASE—is the only writer who could have made CLASS what it is.

Ness

Not pictured: blue polo. Or rhinos.

His ability to weave thrilling tales about genuinely grounded and authentic teens, stories that are shot through with savagely cutting humor and heart-hurting sadness, is unparalleled (I mean, except maybe by J.K. Rowling and Joss Whedon… they all sit on a single throne of awesomeness. It’s a tight fit). His writing in CLASS is on a whole new level. His characters are compelling, complex, beautifully diverse in a way that just reflects the world, funny, fierce, and brave. As they deal with tests, detentions, and, yes, terrifying monsters from throughout the universe, they keep everything painfully grounded and real. The writing here is just a joy to behold. The jokes hit hard, the emotions even harder, and it’s genuinely horrifying and scary when it needs to be. It brings a thrilling edge to the Whoniverse that we’ve never seen before.

THE DIRECTING / CINEMATOGRAPHY / EDITING / EFFECTS / MUSIC

I snuck a few extras in there. Of course, the show couldn’t be great without Ness writing some seriously intense scripts and a series of wonderful performances to really bring them to life, but it could have gone horribly wrong elsewhere. Simple things like putting the camera in the wrong place, lighting shots too brightly, editing too loosely or clumsily, adding music that doesn’t feel quite right… You know when you’re watching a show, and something just feels off? Yeah… you won’t have that feeling here. Because this show never puts a foot wrong. It’s kind of incredible.

Class Quill Charlie

Ed Bazalgette directs 3 of the 8 episodes, while the rest are beautifully shot by Phillipa Langdale, Wayne Yip, and Julian Holmes. They do a phenomenal job. This is fantastic-looking sci-fi that’s slick, has depth, looks gritty and ferocious, and really foregrounds the performances. One episode takes place pretty much entirely in one classroom—and it’s one of the most visually fascinating and kinetic episodes of all of them. The special effects are amazing, easily on a par with the flagship show, and in some cases, far more convincing. Every element of this show comes together to form one hilarious, emotionally devastating joyride through space and time.

THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW DEPENDS ON IT

At the time of writing, the show hasn’t been picked up for a second season… but it hasn’t been canceled either. It aired in the UK last year on an online-only channel, and reading between the lines, it seems like the powers that be are waiting to see how it performs on BBC America. So, my geeks, my nerds, my Doctor Who fans, my fans of sci-fi, of great TV, of great storytelling: Deploy! PLEASE WATCH THIS SHOW. We need joyously great TV shows like this. It’s genuinely up there with monster hits like STRANGER THINGS and GAME OF THRONES, it hits you in the feels like THIS IS US (OK, maybe it doesn’t reduce you to a quivering pile of sadness every single week, but it’s not far off), it’s at least as witty as BUFFY ever was, and sometimes more so, it introduces some truly scary and iconic new monsters and threats, and it’s got a visceral edge that you won’t be expecting.

So watch this damn thing. You’ll be glad you did.

For more info on the show, head on over to the BBC America CLASS site.

CLASS starts its 8 episode run on BBC America at 10.10pm Saturday April 15, following the premiere episode of Peter Capaldi’s final season as DOCTOR WHO.

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We Have A Hulk: How The Avengers Took Over The World

Wow.

I mean… Wow.

Whether you were a total Whedonite, or just a Buffy or Firefly fan, or someone who knew he did that vampire thing but didn’t know about the comic books or web shows, or you just weren’t a fan of Joss Whedon at all, it was impossible not to kneel before The Avengers as though it was an all-powerful demigod demanding your allegiance. In a good way.

Kneel!

What a remarkable achievement this movie was on each and every level. Never before has a franchise been born character by character before being pulled together into one massive, all-conquering whole. For that we can thank the unswerving vision of Marvel Studio’s head honcho, Kevin Feige. From 2008 through 2011, he shepherded Iron Man 1 & 2, Thor and Captain America into production, setting up the title characters, and weaving in Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, and Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow. Each movie not only set up its lead, but also evolved the Avenger Initiative backstory a little more, through one-liners, brief glimpses of the S.H.I.E.L.D. world, and crafty post-credits stingers.

With that heavy lifting taken care of, the biggest task still remained: how to take all those characters and synthesize them into one fast-moving, massive spectacle of an event movie, while retaining the humor, soul and smarts of each of the previous installments.

Which is where Joss Whedon came in.

Joss Whedon directing Mark Ruffalo

It’s no easy thing, to keep so many characters in the mix, giving each their moment(s) to shine, without losing any of them — this is especially true when the characters in question are iconic; are all (or have the potential to be) stars of their own movies & franchises. At least, it’s usually no easy thing in the movies. In TV, on the other hand, keeping multiple character arcs rolling and interweaving as you escalate stakes and understanding is simply business as usual. Todd VanDerWerff made this point in a brilliant piece for the Onion’s AV Club. He talked about how J.J. Abrams, another TV superstar-turned-movie-god, also had the same intuitive understanding as Whedon: focusing on the good guys and their interactions and emotional connections is a powerful foundation, especially in a huge movie. There are exceptions, of course, most notably Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, which are dark and extraordinarily focused odes to isolation and loneliness (also, they’re works of utter genius). However, in the case of The Avengers, which is a high-energy, brightly-colored rock-n-roll universe, focusing on our heroes was a brilliant move on Whedon’s part.

Everyone got arcs and awesome moments (although Robert Downey Jr may have had a few more than most, knocking them all out of the park). Whedon found a way to humanize each of his heroes (most poignantly using “the cellist” and the trading cards to make us care about Agent Coulson), which drew us in all the more: such care is rarely taken in tentpole pictures, and even when care is taken, it’s rarely done with such skill and charm.

The script really is a force to be reckoned with; this is writing as superpower. It begins with a boom, then rides that momentum easily as it swoops from character to character, using one to segue to another, never losing pace as it builds up the cast; then it ratchets up the stakes, the conflict, the sheer size of everything — bringing the team together then breaking them down then finding a nuanced yet brutal emotional lever to launch the massive, rollicking final third of the movie.

This juggernaut of narrative pace is shot through with constant soul, emotion, and, most importantly of all, a relentless and brilliant sense of razor-sharp wit. This may just be the greatest comedy of the year, even as it lays an early claim to blockbuster movie of the year, and possibly even highest grossing movie ever made.

Whedon brought other great grace notes to his performance as writer & director, flourishes that made the performance even more his own: casting the iconic rebel Harry Dean Stanton as a janitor (to Hulk: “son, you have a condition”); using Lou Ferrigno as the voice of the Hulk; ending the movie with Soundgarden’s first song in fifteen years.

The Avengers in action

On so many levels, The Avengers is basically a glorious expression of everything I’ve ever loved about genre and pop culture. As a child, bringing together multiple characters was simply how I did it; that’s what toys were for. In my childhood games, it wasn’t unusual for Captain Kirk to join Spiderman, Superman and the Daleks for a face off against dinosaurs (f**k off, I’m copyrighting that, it’s mine!)… so the notion of superhero team events is basically wish-fulfillment on a massive scale: thank you, Mr. Whedon, for making this match-up so much more than the sum of its parts.

But that’s enough about Joss and the boys. Let’s talk about Scarlett.

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in The Avengers

As the lone female, Scarlett Johansson had her work cut out. But she had Whedon on her side, one of the great feminists of pop culture, a true believer in the awesomeness and awesome power of women. Who better to make Black Widow unique and memorable, soulful and strong, kickass and funny? But having Johansson bringing Whedon’s words to life on the big screen was a truly special thing. She brought a stormy, sensual quality to the Black Widow/Natasha Romanov, playing her with a quiet strength interlaced with a hurt soulfulness, and a sharp intelligence, hidden like a knife, wielded with deadly precision and speed.

Yes, she kicked ass with the best of them, but her shivering, shaking vulnerability after just barely avoiding being killed by Hulk is just one example of what makes Natasha Romanov so human, and is one of the reasons this movie has so much heart and soul. Johansson gave the movie its warm yet broken & tortured soul. In the process, she made an airtight case for a standalone Black Widow movie.

I could keep going, but then the run time of this review would almost match the movie.

In conclusion, The Avengers was a majestic blend of humor, soulfulness, intelligence, mad thrills, and a visceral, always-building visual crescendo.

Iron Man

An extraordinary pop culture rush, in other words.

Final rating: five out of five quippy one liners.

Breathless Reads Tour Recap

I was recently very fortunate to attend one of the dates on the Breathless Reads tour. This was Penguin Teens awesome lineup of YA sci-fi authors Marie Lu (LEGEND) and Beth Revis (ACROSS THE UNIVERSE), and YA fantasy authors Jessica Spotswood (BORN WICKED) and Andrea Cremer (NIGHTSHADE). I’m pretty sure you won’t find a smarter, more talented or more charming group of writers anywhere else. These ladies kept the crowd entertained and engaged as they talked about YA, writing, their inspirations, being writers, and their books. It was a great event for fans and aspiring writers alike.

It’s always interesting to hear what inspires great writers. Unsurprisingly, they all have great taste in TV — there’s a serious overlap between the breathless, fast-paced, what’s-going-to-happen-next qualities of the best YA, and the greatest TV dramas. Marie Lu singled out Game Of Thrones and Breaking Bad, while Andrea Cremer & Beth Revis both gave props to Doctor Who (Harley in ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is based on David Tennant), and Joss Whedon (Revis credits him with teaching her how to kill characters, while Cremer says he taught her how to write dialogue). Revis is a huge fan of Firefly and Serenity, and via Nathan Fillion, she loves Castle too. Cremer is a devotee of Buffy. Jessica Spotswood namechecked a pretty awesome mashup of Downton Abbey, Revenge, and The Vampire Diaries.

With their genre credentials firmly established, the writers talked about why they like writing in the YA sci-fi and fantasy genres. Lu and Spotswood made the great point that this kind of fiction really allows you to explore issues without coming across as preachy, while Revis and Cremer dig the fact that you can transcend the usual boundaries of “boy books” vs. “girl books”. As Revis put it, “there should be good books, and everyone should be able to read them.” Lu praised Penguin for marketing LEGEND based on its sci-fi content, rather than directing it at boys or girls.

They all take different approaches to writing:

Revis — “I laugh wickedly when I kill off my characters.”

Cremer — “I cry a lot when I write my books.”

And they all picked different “theme songs” for their books:

Lu — Europe, “The Final Countdown”

Revis — Chameleon Circuit (a Doctor Who fan band), “Everything Is Ending”

Cremer — Florence + The Machine, the entire “Lungs” album

But they all feel blessed to have the opportunity to be published:

Spotswood — “It’s amazing.”

Revis — “Even after two books it’s still shiny and new.”

Cremer — “It’s extraordinary to be able to do this… I’m still trying to keep close to how extraordinary this is.”

Revis in particular has cause to still feel enthralled about the process of being a published author: prior to writing ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, she’d written 10 novels over 10 years, and had nearly 1000 rejections. Her will to make this happen was a testament to believing and following your dreams. Marie Lu had a similarly long path, having received her first query rejection at the age of 15 (for “a book that was basically LORD OF THE RINGS, but not good”). Cremer was at the other end of the speed spectrum: she had her third novel published a year after she started writing her first. It seems traditional publishing has two speeds: geologically-paced slow motion, and warp factor 8. But there’s only one type of attitude for writers: unflinching dedication to the dream.

Cremer had great advice for aspiring writers: “stop chasing new ideas — pick one and finish it.” Revis’s advice was possibly more lighthearted, but no less practical: “you need a spinning chair.”

And it was Revis who gave the best description of how YA should be seen: “YA isn’t a recommended reading level, it’s a style of writing: interesting characters, interesting setting and a fast-paced plot.”

What came across from all these inspiring and talented women was the belief that good books are good books, regardless of genre or gender. Writing is about creating great stories that reach people and move them, take them to different worlds (sometimes literally), and change how they see our world.

Many thanks to Marie Lu, Beth Revis, Jessica Spotswood and Andrea Cremer for taking part in the Breathless Reads tour, and kudos to Penguin Teens for organizing it, and for bringing writers and readers together.

The Nine Lives Of Chloe King

From Alloy Entertainment, the illustrious YA book/TV packing behemoth behind massive pop culture hits like The Vampire Diaries, The Secret Circle, Gossip Girl & Pretty Little Liars amongst many others, comes The Nine Lives Of Chloe King, ABC Family’s contender for new genre show of the summer.

In truth, it’s much more than just a contender: it fully and skillfully owns its genre DNA, relishing it like few other shows on the air right now. Based on the trilogy written by Liz Braswell, both the show and the source material feel like YA Stephen King, with their rock-solid grasp of genre, and gleeful approach to story.

The show begins with a breathless chase sequence on the morning of the sixteenth birthday of Chloe King, a normal-seeming San Francisco teenager, who is being chased to the top of Coit Tower, from which she falls. And dies.

And then comes back to life.

As in all great YA stories featuring kids with extraordinary abilities, the supernatural changes that Chloe starts to experience dovetail smoothly with the turbulence of adolescence. This combination of the supernatural and everyday is one of the many things the show does brilliantly. Chloe’s relationships with her longtime best friends Amy and Paul, with her adopted mother, with her annoying boss in the store where she works, and with the mysterious guy Brian who shows up in the store one day — all these are given time, depth and convincing backstory. All those scenes have an easy, natural quality that grounds the more fantastic elements of the world.

But the show is about the fantastic. Aside from coming back from the dead, Chloe starts developing speed, agility… and claws. She discovers that she’s the key figure in a prophecy of the Mai, an ancient race of, as you may have guessed from the title, cat people. The Mai are engaged in a war with the Order of the Tenth Blade, a war in which Chloe is the unwilling focal point. The show follows her developing powers, her struggle to reconcile her human life with her new and extraordinary world, and, of course, a breathless and urgent love triangle.

Where this show succeeds (and others fail), is its ability to shift gears on the fly between episodic events, major story arcs, intense supernatural fight scenes, and small, intimate character moments. It has a great genre central story fueled by secrets, revelations and the many intense emotions that make up high school and complex family life. Its grasp of all these elements makes it a natural successor to Joss Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

The writing, directing and soundtrack are all strong, propulsive and highly entertaining, but shows like this also need a solid cast, and in this respect, The Nine Lives Of Chloe King kicks major ass. The show’s star, Skyler Samuels, channels her inner Kate Winslet to portray the simultaneous power and quirky vulnerability of Chloe in a consistently winning performance. As Chloe’s best friend Amy, Grace Phipps is also front and center in terms of performance, bringing an engagingly live-wire chaotic charm and emotional intelligence to the mix. And Amy Pietz brings a complex, deep sense of emotional truth to her portrayal of Chloe’s adoptive mother: their scenes together are often painfully real, and are one of the important grounding elements in the show.

The show is a charming, entertaining mystery with claws, teeth, raging hormones, and a series of engaging plotlines that, thanks to the instinctive understanding of genre and awesome writing of original author Liz Braswell and now Daniel Berendson & his team, all successfully intertwine with the central war between supernatural species.

ABC Family has consistently provided a complementary alternative to the CW’s darker programming slate, by carving out a great track history in teen drama and edgier fantastical fare, such as Kyle XY (exec produced by The Vampire Diaries‘ Julie Plec). The Nine Lives Of Chloe King is another excellent example of that trend.

It’s a perfect summer show that successfully takes the supernatural teen baton from The Vampire Diaries and runs with it. Let’s hope the show itself has more than one life, because there’s more than enough intrigue and story potential for many more seasons.