theferrett: (Meazel)

Watching The Wire’s opening sequence, I was struck by how much of it was footage taken from later episodes of this season.  Which is a style of opening sequence that’s very modern; basically, a theme song accompanied by a bunch of mini-trailers for the excitement of the upcoming season.

They wouldn’t have done that back in the 1970s, I don’t think; there weren’t season-long arcs planned, back in the day.  So this has to be a recent development.  And I wondered, “Which show did it first?”

Gini said she thought Buffy did it, and vaguely recalled some Joss Whedon commentary to that effect, but Babylon 5 also did it.  So I ask you, dear readers: what is the earliest show you can remember that used just clips from the upcoming season in the opening sequence?  (Please note that this is different from having “generic portions of the show” in the opening sequence, which can hardly be helped; if you need a generic action shot, you’re taking it from the scenes you’ve shot.  I’m talking an opening sequence that changes every season to show upcoming events from this season.)

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

After the season premiere of “Breaking Bad” last night, all I can think of this – sung to the tune of Cat Stevens’ “Morning Has Broken“:

Badness has broken, like the first meth lab
Walter has spoken, what a huge turd
Crazy-ass killers, crazy-ass dealers
Sane but sad Gale now, so long you big nerd

Watch Walter’s space crawl, searching for money
Watch Jesse’s bling sprawl, stoned off his ass
Praise for the sweetness of Vince’s writing
Praise for the blueness of Walter’s smooth glass

(Seriously, if you want analysis, Perich has a nice write-up of the Premiere over here.  Me?  A little underwhelmed, but last season ended so explosively that I don’t mind starting slowly.  And Walter’s “Because I say so” was brilliant.)

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Whenever someone bitches about how stupid the creators are for producing a terrible movie, I think of Star Wars.  Not Star Wars, the global sensation that’s been around for thirty years – but Star Wars, the over-budget mess in mid-production, staffed by no-name actors, directed by the guy who’d had only one decent movie in the can.

If you read the interviews with the actors, they all went out after filming every day and got hammered.  And why not?  By day, you’re reading terrible, stilted dialog while the director screams at you: “Faster!  And more intense!”  You don’t see the special effects; you’re on a wooden screen, knowing the studio wants to shut this production down.  You don’t hear the John Williams music doing half the emotional work for you.  All you know is that this crazy maniac is telling you that all your attempts to emote lines like “How could I be so stupid? He’s nowhere in sight. Blast it!” aren’t sufficient while idiots in white plated armor are firing imaginary guns at you.

Why wouldn’t you drink?

Why wouldn’t you think this movie was the end of your career?

And even then, you’re wrong.  I know you’re thinking, “Well, it was all a success after that,” but… The movie that George Lucas directed did bomb.  The unsung hero of Star Wars is the film editor, who realized the initial cut was about twenty minutes too long, and went back and sped up the film to helter-skelter speeds – because the minute you had a second to pause and think about things, the whole thing fell apart.  The initial few cuts were legendary failures, and everyone in Hollywood was kissing George Lucas’ career goodbye.

The reason I say this is because I work in a couple of creative fields – I write stories, and I handle Magic: the Gathering cards as my day job.  And whenever something isn’t particularly, there’s this entitled, sneering reaction from the fans.  They leave comments over and over again with the same basic premise: “God, you’re so fucking stupid.  Fixing it’s so easy.  Why didn’t you just do X?”

Because it’s not that simple when you’re in the middle of the damn thing, that’s why.

Look, if we could all write glorious stories of magnificent heartbreak every time, we would.  But the creative process is really very complicated.  You’re complaining with the fresh sight of retrospect.  Scott Kurtz, author of webcomic PVP, once said that you couldn’t really critique a webcomic until you’d done one.  At the time, I disagreed strongly.  Once I had a year of producing a webcomic under my belt, well, I wasn’t so certain.

It’s not that you can’t critique – hell, you absolutely should.  I spent this week slamming Prometheus for failing absolutely on all but an allegorical level.  But when you critique, you shouldn’t take the attitude that the creative process is simple… And particularly not if you’ve never made anything and thrown your darling out to a crowd of angry, ungrateful people to be savaged.

When the project is done, it’s easy to look back and see what could have done better.  But in the middle of things, when you’re looking at a half-blank slate and the world is full of ten thousand choices, it’s hard to fathom that this one choice is the critical one.  Or perhaps – and this is the thing that the people who think “it’s simple” never get – that you made a hundred very good choices, more than most people ever do, enough to catapult your film/book/card game/music past the realms of “stuff that no one pays attention to” and into the realm of “good enough to for many people to like” – and in the process of making those hundred choices absolutely correctly, the one that stopped it from being pure genius got by you.

And maybe – just maybe – it’s possible that as a creator, you make a film/book/card game/music that absolutely satisfies you, but doesn’t hit anyone else’s good points.  That happens.  A lot.  And if you’re sitting there squalling because the creator should have “known better,” then maybe you should try creating stuff that’s perfect for you, and see the horrifying variance in reactions when your “perfect” product hits the shelves.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t criticize.  If Promethus sucks, well, it failed.  If something I write doesn’t win every award, well, it’s worthwhile to point out why my stories didn’t pan out.  But what you should not do is to treat the whole thing as a big ball of rage, as if we purposely set out to annoy you when making it.

We didn’t.  We wanted to make beauty.  Something got in the way, and we’re sorry… But if this was as easy as you think, then everyone would do it.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

There are two shows that have been causing a lot of discussion in my house, each about as diametrically opposed as media can get: Legend of Korra and Mad Men.

So, of course, I want to talk about both of them.  Light spoilers may apply, but I’ve gone to some efforts to obfuscate details of what have happened – though gloves will be off in the comments.

If you haven’t been watching Legend of Korra, you’re missing out on one of the best action-adventure cartoons in a long time.  Like the recent Star Trek movie, no knowledge of past Avatars is necessary, but you get an emotional tie to the old references if you have seen Airbender.

The big question is, of course: Who is Amon, the masked leader of the anti-bender faction?

Being a kids’ series, Korra’s gone the route of peppering the show with so many dicks that frankly, it could be any number of obstructionist gits.  For a while, I thought Amon was clearly Asami, as she is a) an avid follower of pro-bending and the cheating team got decimated, b) the daughter of a rich industrialist who can manufacture anti-bending tech at will, and c) infiltrated the Avatar’s camp by literally running into Mako.  But what happened in “The Aftermath” indicates that this is probably not true.

The too-obvious choice was Tarrlok, the sneeringly evil politician, and if the show had chosen him to be Amon I’d have torn my teeth out.  But the most recent show seems to indicate that Tarrlok has his own agenda that’s overlapping with Amon but not parallel (note how clearly I am avoiding spoilers here).  So while Gini’s not ruling it out, I am.  So let’s go nuts with the speculation: Who do you think is Amon, and why?

In other, subtler, news, the big twist of Mad Men is what Joan chose to do at the end of the last episode – which was heartbreaking, ugly, and stayed with me for a couple of days afterwards.  It was the implosion of a lot of Joan’s dreams, conspired by everyone at the company, and I think it was the big watercooler moment of a season that had already had a ton of them.  (Was there ever a more realistic depiction of an acid trip than Roger’s LSD shenanigans?  I think not.)

That said, I’ve seen some people complaining that Joan’s reaction was forced, that big strong Joan would never act like that.  And that’s something I feel is completely inaccurate.  Like everyone else on Mad Men, Joan’s a complex character, and her primary drive has been to go with the way the wind is blowing strongest.  She chooses her shots within that, yes, but unlike Peggy who’s decided to buck the system, Joan’s decided to surf it.  She has her own agenda, and she makes good choices within that realm, but realistically she dresses sexy because she realizes that a) men are going to treat her like a sex object anyway, and b) given that choice, this is the easiest way to get what she wants.  So she uses that for her benefit, while still maintaining her integrity.

With what happened last week, well, it became clear that no one in the company was going to protect her.  Pete was the slimy little prick he’s always been, Lane was quietly manipulating her for his own hidden ends (and I think he’s gotta be the guy in the elevator shaft, since now he’s got nowhere to hide), Bert wanted his hands clean, and Don walked away in disgust (but Joan didn’t know that).

(The only forced bit, to me, was the complete abstention of Roger, who theoretically cares about Joan and you’d think would have some input.  That absence seemed damning, particularly because honestly I’m not sure that Roger wouldn’t ultimately told Joan to do it.  But that may be a matter of time, or cold orchestration on the part of the writers.)

So to me, when Joan discovered that she had been isolated, given the double-whammy of everyone there hating her if she didn’t and despising her if she did, she went the way that got her a bunch of cold cash.  It was not a pleasant choice.  It was a delightful scene where she turned her back at the right moment, forcing this to happen on her own terms.  But Joan’s compelling nature is that she actually bends with the culture in a way that appears to be completely on her own terms, but often is a small choice made while bowing to outside pressures that even Joan cannot escape from.  And she never, ever lets that heartache show.

So I think it was in character, and one of the creepiest episodes of television ever.  And there are two episodes left in the season.  I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I have a weekly date with Kara, which is a little weird, because we’ve never met.  Or even talked. Yet every Sunday, we watch Game of Thrones together and text snarky observations to each other, and this time is inviolable as my weekly date with Bec.  (It helps that I’m curled up on Gini’s lap, sharing the greatest hits.)

The weird thing about Game of Thrones is how some people stand out because of the actors.  Honestly, I never paid attention to Littlefinger in the book – which is a trick, because we see all of his plots and discussions, know who he talks to, and yet somehow I keep forgetting that he’s pulling most of the strings in Westeros.

Yet in the series, Baelish is such a screen force that they give him extra time to masturbate on-camera.  Thus are the delights of HBO.

That said, Jon Snow was one of the big guns in the book series, yet on screen he comes off as petulant and ignorant.  Part of that’s the age shift, where Jon Snow’s four years older and as such he’s having an on-schedule adolescent rebellion during his sophomore year in college.  But part of it is that the actor who plays him has a confused face and this unfortunate pube mustache, and so much of the inner dialogue that highlight’s Jon Snow’s maturity is lost.

Baelish: Win.  Jon Snow: Loss.

Likewise, Tywin Lannister is a strangely likeable figure in the series, not quite fatherly but rewarding intelligence and cunning… Which few do.  I could just watch “The Tywin and Arya show” all week, because I love the subtle interplay between the two of them.  And so what if Tywin should have recognized Arya by now?  Who’s to say he hasn’t, and is just playing it far better than his idiot grandson?

Whereas I barely remembered Theon Greyjoy from the book aside from him as a plot device, but the actor who’s portrayed him has made him wonderfully craven and snivelling.  Which is a wonderful talent, because you’d think Joffrey would have sewn up that particular avenue, but there’s something about Theon’s insecurity that just trumps Joffrey’s boiling arrogance.

Daenarys, however, is dropping for me.  She used to be strong, and now she’s just sort of whiny.  “Give me what I want, or I’ll…. pout!  And be poutier.  Say, did I mention I’m the Mother of Dragons?”  She had a nice moment of dry realization with whats-his-butt, but then was back to “Give me because I said!”

(This is a rare case of the books and the TV series intersecting, because I got fed up with her antics around [book X] and decided, dragons or no, I’d be happy if she got axed.)

It’s kind of fascinating.  I mean, Tyrion’s always been the star, but I suspect the fan base is different among the books-only fans and the series-only fans just because of the magnetic pull of the actors.  Some do better in translation, others do worse.

Meanwhile, I’m rooting for Stannis.  He’s a dry, humorless fuck, but he’s at least vaguely competent.  He might not fuck up the kingdom too badly if he wins.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“How can you not like House?” people ask.  “Or Monk?”  And it’s a chronic weakness of mine, not being able to endure the plots.

See, I love the characters House and Monk.  But to justify their screen-time, every week the writers have to have them solve a mystery of some sort.  The mystery is invariably not as interesting to me as the characters, since the mystery is usually overblown and trying too hard to be WEIRD AS YOUR CENTRAL CHARACTER, and so I get bored.

If there was a half-hour sitcom called “HOUSE IS A DICK,” then I’d watch.  But you have this so unique character, and you’re strapping him to bog-standard mystery/medical plots, and that bothers me.  So I don’t watch.

I am, however, loving Fringe.

Fringe is basically an updated X-Files, with a mad scientist thrown in for good measure.  And it’s interesting how little I’ve come to expect from J.J. Abrams.  Reading the Wikipedia summaries of each show after I’ve watched it, I see the reviews for the monster-of-the-week shows are pretty universally, “WHO CARES ABOUT THE MONSTER OF THE WEEK?  SHOW US MORE OF THE OBSERVER, OF MASSIVE DYNAMIC, OF THE SHOW’S MYTHOLOGY!”

And I’m all like, “I don’t give a shit about the show’s mythology because, just like Lost and X-Files before it, none of it will ultimately make any sense.”  I know they don’t have a master plan in place, no matter what they claim, and when Fringe ends that mythology will be revealed to be a mess of incomprehensible plotlines and unsatisfying explanations.

So for me, Fringe is the House of science-fiction shows – I turn up to watch the characters, and mostly ignore the stereotypical weird mystery of the week.  And I was wondering, “Why?  Why can I do this with Fringe, but not House?”

The reason, I realized yesterday, is Walter Bishop.

Walter is perhaps the best mad scientist in all of science-fiction – an old man who spent seventeen years in an insane asylum, but has an IQ of 196.  He can create devices that will read the minds of dead brains, but can’t remember the name of his loyal assistant Asterix or the conversation he had ten minutes ago.

The thing is, unlike most mad scientists, who laugh manically a lot but seem to function well otherwise, Walter is genuinely damaged.  He has these absolute moments of brilliance, but can’t live in normal society without the help of his son.  There’s a heartbreaking episode where Walter, sick of being coddled, runs out to investigate the mystery of the week by himself – then gets lost after talking to a few shopkeepers, can’t remember his son’s phone number to call, loses his money for the bus, and eventually winds up weeping on a bus stop until some poor Chinese lady takes pity on him.

That’s when it occurred to me: I am Walter Bishop.

I’m not as smart or as damaged as Walter, but I feel every inch of his condition.  I am absolutely brilliant at some moments and then hopelessly dysfunctional at the things everyone else takes for granted.  I understand on some levels how deeply damaged I am, and get by only thanks to the kindness and love of the people around me – a love I don’t fully deserve, but they recognize the shattered bits inside me and try to help out.  And the moments I’m really on my game don’t quite balance out the gigantic pain in the ass I am, but you can at least see why people would stick around.

And like Walter, I’m semi-lovable now, but you probably don’t want to dig too deeply into my past.

So I’m not watching Fringe because of the mystery of the week, or the show mythology – I’m watching it because in some strange and parallel universe, there’s a copy of my soul working through difficulties, and I have to find out how it turns out.  For Walter, I’ll endure the nonsense travails of ZOMG OTHER DIMENSIONS to find out how he’s doing.

I hope it’s well.  But I know it’s not going to be easy, Walter.  It never is for us.

(NOTE: I am halfway through Season 2, and if you spoil me in any way as to what happens I WILL CUT YOU.  If you’re unfamiliar with Walter Bishop, well, have some choice quotes.)

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I have now devoted one hundred and twenty-nine hours of my life to watching the entirety of Deep Space Nine.  Assuming I’d never slept, that’d be five and a half straight days of television, but as it was, finishing DS9 was a commitment.  We gave up Mythbusters, we gave up sitcoms, we gave up Boardwalk Empire because we knew if we strayed we’d wander off and never know how all of this ended.

And how did it end?

Well.

I told you when I started watching DS9 that I hadn’t seen it before now because I “knew” it was a pale rip-off of Babylon 5 – a complaint that has some traction.  But DS9 and B5 had similar evolutions because of the nature of the show.

Which is to say that Next Generation was a spaceship swooping from exotic locale to exotic locale, every week a new distraction, so you didn’t have to worry about the characters all that much.  Hey, it’s Picard – on a pleasure planet!  Hey, it’s Picard – fighting the Borg!  Hey, it’s Picard – arguing with Q!  So your main plotline isn’t so much the evolution of the characters, it’s the latest show-and-dance.

….Though I note that the fan favorite episodes tend to be the ones where Picard is forced through character evolution, such as “Picard has to live a whole life as someone else” or “Picard goes home and breaks down over the Borg.”

What DS9 did, simply because it was a static locale and didn’t have the luxury of a different enemy every week, was to change the characters.  Because you literally couldn’t go elsewhere, the characters had to evolve, and as such what you had was a situation very unlike Star Trek where the characters’ choices in Season 1 would not be the choices they made come Season 7.  (As evidenced by Sisko’s chilling, yet correct, choice in “In The Pale Moonlight” – a choice Picard never could have made, yet a choice that needed to be made.)

Deep Space Nine is both far better and far worse than Babylon 5.  B5 had the problem of wooden characters and bad actors, while DS9 had rich characters and some very bad actors mixed in with some very good ones.  (It took me a long time before I could accept Sisko’s stilted delivery as a riff on Shatnerian earnestness.  And ever since Bec made me watch Shatner’s documentary “The Captains,” where he interviews all of the other Star Trek captains only to find Avery Brooks is a singing, piano-playing loon, I found it hard to separate Avery from the role.)

Basically, every flaw Deep Space Nine has when compared to Babylon 5 comes down to “Babylon 5 knew where it was going.”  B5 had an end point, so it had a clear character arc for every character – Londo’s redemption and corruption, Garibaldi’s fencing with the Psi Corps, even Sinclair/Sheridan’s attitude towards Earth.  As such, the characters had very bold decisions where they moved from friends to enemies, or vice versa, with the grace of a dancer.

DS9 gets the evolution, but falters a bit because they don’t know where they’re headed – they were just running for a few seasons and hoped to tie it up.  The only one where they absolutely nail the arc is Odo and Kira, and even that wavers for a bit as the “Will she or won’t she” turns into cruelty for a bit as you can sense the producers not quite sure what to do.  So you have a lot of relationships like Odo and Quark that are quite nice as they are, but are entirely about moving by inches and never reach a breaking point.

On the other hand, DS9 has a much better grasp on emotional issues, unlike B5 which treats emotions as something that happens to further the plot.  DS9, like all Star Treks, loves devoting individual episodes to giving each of their leads a challenge that shows us who they are.  So we get these character spotlights where we wind up getting very much inside the heads of Kira and Dax and co, which matter more because that’s what Star Trek does well – that human factor.

On the other hand, DS9 has the Ferengi episodes, which vary wildly in quality, and a lot of Klingon episodes – and since I can’t stand Klingons, it feels like there’s a lot of filler.

Thing is, though, the end game of DS9 is ultimately pretty satisfying.  It suffers because, like all “We’re making it up as we go along” shows, there are dead-ends and shoehorned in aspects – hey, what’s that book that suddenly turns out to mean anything, and why’s it only show up three episodes before the end?  Why did the prophets make such a big deal about Sisko making a choice where his punishment was that he could never return to Bajor if this was their end game all along?  Who are these Breen guys, anyway, and why’d they steal Leia’s armor from Jabba’s palace?

None of that matters, though, because they got some of the emotional arcs right.  DS9 is different from Roddenberry in that it believes that war has a cost, and that cost takes its toll.  The end of Next Generation is Picard saying “Engage,” and that there are tons of new adventures to be had – which is inspiring, but not necessarily honest.

DS9 shows that characters must make sacrifices in the course of this war, and what happens in the end isn’t always happy.  Some real losses are had – not death, which is kind of easy in fiction, but the kind of thing where ultimately to do the right thing you have to step away from what you want personally to accomplish the larger goal.  And in that, DS9 shows how friendships are born and shift as yes, you have friendships, but you have marriages and careers and, yes, the fate of the fucking galaxy, and sometimes you’re going to pay for that currency in unhappiness to get the paltry satisfaction of having done the right thing.

That’s where DS9 nails it.  Yes, it’s a little uneven in the last season as the non-arc shows sputter out.  Yes, maybe some of the end game is too much “Because The Prophets say so.”  Yes, maybe all our questions are not answered.  But the emotional resonance of knowing that no, in fact being a tool of the Prophets does not lead to happiness, war does not lead to happiness, combat costs.

And that, I like.  So much that I can forgive the unevenness.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

When it comes to women, I will chew my own arm off before I give up the ship.  There is always one more conversation to be had, one more issue we can solve, one more fight and this will be all good again.

But I am a terrible show boyfriend.

Seriously.  Piss me off once, Ms. Television show, and I will abandon my whole fandom in a heartbeat.  I can be radically in love with a show one moment, and then three weeks later I’ll be all like, “Who?  Oh, that show?  I forget it even existed.”

It’s like my love affairs with books.  Hey, buddy book, I can leave you at any time.  I can be three hundred pages in and still wander off, don’t think I’m one of those compulsive finishers.  When it comes to media, I’m a “love ‘em and leave ‘em” kinda guy.

Case in point: Boardwalk Empire.  Haven’t seen it in three weeks.  May not return.  And about two months ago, it was my Sunday ritual with Gini, my deep love, my favorite show on television.  Then they started in on Nucky, and Nucky was no longer a canny politician but a whiny runt who seemed to have spent the past decade in power notably acquiring no blackmail material on anyone, to the point where a Senate page had more moxie than Nucky.  All of Nucky’s time in power seemed to have been spent cultivating gratitude – which, as we all know, has the shortest half-life of any political sentiment.  Nucky had no muscle whatsoever, to the point where two guys with guns run rampant over Atlantic City and they had to bring in an explosives bohunk to give Nucky any chance physically.

Nucky was no longer a smart protagonist, he was an idiot surrounded by people who did him favors that he never appreciated.

Now, Nucky’s wanderings could have been forgivable, but Marget?  Oh, fuck you, Boardwalk Empire.  Margaret was second in command to the throne, the one person who looked like she could step up and take charge of Nucky’s empire… And what do they do to her?  They make her a bored housewife making googly-eyes at explosives bohunk, a plot I’ve seen a billion fucking times before.  Hey, I wanted to see Margaret become the next fucking crime lord – which you don’t see on TV, women acquiring criminal power – as opposed to her sluggishly pondering infidelity with Nucky.

Boardwalk Empire always had its flaws.  But that happened, and then Gini and I skipped a Sunday because we were out of town and I didn’t feel like watching it that next week, and then Sunday came around again, and now we’re way more excited about The Sing-Off than I am about returning to the turgidness of Boardwalk Empire and its unfeasibly stupid characters.  Maybe I’ll return at some point.  But only if someone I trust tells me it’s gotten good again.

Be warned, other shows.  I’ll boardwalk out on you, too.  ENTERTAIN ME OR DIE.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

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