Archive for Someone Else’s Writing

X Men: Days of Future Past

By | May 29, 2014 | 3 Comments
Kitty Pride Indeed

Kitty Pride Indeed

Let’s say you have a time machine. What would you change? Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you would go back in time and buy me a drink that one time when you refused to buy me a drink because I kept mispronouncing your name and then braying like a donkey, clearly implying that I knew I was mispronouncing your name. But looking back you realize I deserved that drink, and because I was sober I went on a rampage of writing novels and you hate to see me successful, so you figure: I’ll go back and buy him a drink and he’ll get drunk and step in front of a bus and die.

Don’t worry. It’s a common desire. I get that a lot.

So, you acquire a time machine via Dark Arts or Black Ops or what have you. How do you go about putting this plan into motion? Do you

A. Set the controls for the evening we were together, walk into the place just as Past You heads for the bathroom, and do the deed? or

B. Set the controls for the day I was conceived and totally cock-block my Dad? or

C. Set the controls for a week earlier and spend your time moving objects and leaving notes for friends and family, subtly arranging them like pieces on a board to ensure that Past You doesn’t make it to the bar that evening so you can impersonate yourself, and then put more work hours into making certain that my favorite liquor is stocked behind the bar, and then even more work into several side projects, including releasing a dangerous gorilla from the zoo to terrorize the neighborhood so the bar won’t be too crowded, except I have a deadly fear of gorillas and so now Past Me isn’t coming to the bar, and you have to reveal yourself to Past You and team up to kidnap me and literally pour booze down my throat, accidentally burning down Hoboken, NJ in the process?

If you chose “C,” you may be Jane Goldman, Simon Kinberg, or Matthew Vaughn, the people who wrote X-Men: Days of Future Past. SPOILERS HO.

Sweet Jesus, I’m an Asshole

So, time travel movies tend to be ridiculous. Here’s a Pro Tip: Time Travel is not magic. It’s not supposed to be magic, at least – it’s supposed to be a manipulation of a measurable aspect of our physical world. As a result, they should have what we professional thinkers call “internal logic.” The rest of the world calls this making any damn sense.

XMDOFP Makes a valiant attempt to make some damn sense. The method of time travel is the typical mumbo-jumbo, but at least avoids someone actually building a time machine in favor of mental gymnastics, which has a nice simplicity to it, in my opinion. The basic premise is this: In 1973 Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) assassinates a scientist/industrialist, setting in motion a present-day where the world has been destroyed by “Sentinels” that hunt anyone with even a single mutant gene. On the verge of being exterminated, the final remaining mutants gather to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, whose arms and chest are a special effect that made me doubt my sexual orientation) back to his body in 1973 to stop her. To do so, they decide he must find Professor X (Patrick Stewart/James McAvoy) and Magneto (Ian McKellan/Michale Fassbender) to persuade her not to kill her target.

So, let’s run this through the insanity machine: On the one hand, you have the entire world destroyed an enslaved by horrible Sentinels. Weighed against that is the single mutant who causes the chain reaction in the first place. Solution: Kill Mystique, preferably a few years before 1973. Film over within ten minutes, the rest of the running time is Jackman doing one-handed push-ups while the rest of the cast cheers.

But no, they decide that despite the fact that the entire world destroyed an enslaved by horrible Sentinels Mystique, the woman who unknowingly caused this awful future, is far too important to kill. So they decide to spend a few days trying to track her down and convince her to not exact vengeance on this man. And for some reason, for some unknowable reason, they send Wolverine back to just a few days before her terrible act.

Wait. Why?

You are sending him back in time. For fuck’s sake, send him a few months back, give him some room to operate. Okay, to be fair, the implication is that he’s only back in his 1973 body for as long as Kitty Pride is actively manipulating him with her mutant powers, so the idea that she could do that for months is probably crazy. Except of course that she does do it for several days, because in 1973 Wolverine travels around quite a bit, and a lot of plot happens, and so we must assume Kitty pride knelt there holding her hands over Wolverine’s head for two, maybe four days. Without eating or drinking. Or bathroom breaks. Sure. Why not.

Okay! So maybe they had to send him back with just days to spare. Stipulated. I may have been drunk while watching this movie anyway. But! Here is the next complicating factor: Despite having just a few days to accomplish this goal, they spend a great deal of time breaking young Magneto out of his plastic prison. Because Old Magneto, despite knowing for a fact that he was a complete asshole back in 1973, insisted he would be necessary to convince Mystique. Which proves to be completely untrue, and it doesn’t matter anyway because Magneto immediately begins acting like the complete asshole he was in 1973.

In other words, if Old Magneto had said: Hey, listen, I was kind of a jerk back then and probably wouldn’t help you, better leave me out of it, the movie’s forty minutes long and the rest of the running time is spent giving Halle Berry a reason to be in the movie in the first place.

Man, I’m not, you know, Magneto-old. He appears to be 40 in 1973, so that makes Sir Ian McKellan 80 years old, which is … about right. In 1973 I was 2. But I can remember, for example, what kind of jerkass I was when I was 18. If you time-traveled back to when I was 18 and asked me to do anything that inconvenienced me in the least, I would yawn and pretend to be asleep. I know this. So if we were hatching plans to save the world that involved time-traveling back to me at 18 and getting my help, I would raise my hand and say guys – bad idea. I was kind of an asshole back then.

You know, instead of producing a plot thread that exists solely to expand the story to an appropriate film-length.

We won’t even get into the fact that Wolverine drowns, except doesn’t, and then magically wakes up in a shiny new future with no memory of the previous 40 years … for some unknowable reason. The metaphysics in this movie? not so hot. Sure, the movie’s fun. It also takes itself a little too seriously, and has an enormous number of continuity problems just with the other films. But Quicksilver was fun. I love that guy.

Godzilla 2014: Be Moar Dum

By | May 22, 2014 | 0 Comments
ROWR

ROWR

So, Godzilla 2014 kind of sucks. Spoilers ho, but if you fear spoilers … ah, who has the energy.

I know this isn’t the common opinion. Between B+ reviews and mega box office, I can only assume they pump gas into the theaters everywhere else, because this movie — while kind of fun in a brain damaged way — is Dumb with a capital D which rhymes with B which stands for Big Time Dum.

For yucks, let’s point every completely insanely stupid aspect of this film:

  • Radiation is apparently a white mist you can potentially outrun.
  • Automatic radiation safety doors have manual overrides so heartbroken husbands can endanger entire cities while they hold the door for their wife who is trying to outrun the white misty radiation.
  • Ancient ginormous monsters feed off of radiation, which apparently means they eat nuclear missiles like Heath Bars.
  • Godzilla exists to bring balance to nature by destroying these monsters whenever they appear. Godzilla is simply a force of nature. Because reasons.
  • After studying the radiation-eating monsters for 15 years, the scientists in charge know absolutely nothing about it. Not even how to kill it effectively. Nothing.
  • The radiation-eating monsters emit a mobile EMP pulse that knocks out power wherever they go. Except sometimes it’s a pulse, sometimes a measurable  “sphere of influence.” Despite being measurable, the armed forces continue to fly planes and drive vehicles into the sphere of influence just so we can see them drop out of the sky dramatically.
  • The army also thinks shipping a nuke by train to the West Coast so it can be laboriously towed as radiation bait into the sea and then detonated to kill all the monsters is a better idea than flying a nuke way out of the (measurable) sphere of EMP influence and getting it to the bait spot the long way around.
  • Nuclear missiles can be retrofitted with clockwork detonators. When the rigged nuke is found by the monsters, instead of eating it immediately like a Heath Bar as they with every single other radioactive element they encounter, they take it back to their nest for their offspring to feed on. Now the army has to send in a team of idiots to literally carry the bomb out of SF by hand, on foot.
  • Elizabeth Olsen is in this movie, apparently to remind everyone that women do, in fact, exist. She is a nurse and a mother, because that is what women do (they can possibly teach grammar school as well) in the minds of Hollywood assholes. Elizabeth Olsen’s role could have been re-written to be a Golden Retriever the hero loves, and it would have been exactly the same.
  • The other woman in the story is Juliette Binoche, who is the aforementioned wife running from radiation above, and is dead within five minutes, because that is the other role women can play in movies written by idiots.
  • At the end, after the radiation-eating monsters are dead and San Fran is destroyed, Godzilla wakes up and is mysteriously treated as a hero despite the fact that he is Godzilla, and the fact that he almost died killing mortal enemies in a savage battle does not in any way mean he will not simply proceed to eating the citizens of San Francisco like Skittles. Literally a news blurb on TV as the monster is walking through the city proclaims it the savior of the city.

I could go on. Believe me. Some of the sequences are cool, and the sensibility seems right, but boy howdy a young chimpanzee could have come up with a plot that made more sense. In the words of Bill Hicks: Go back to bed, America.

Fear of a Flat Planet: Fargo

By | May 5, 2014 | 1 Comments

NOTE: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.Billy Bob and the Haircut of Armageddon

Friends, all I do is sit around and complain. It’s become my “thing.” We all need a thing: Some folks go around donating blood and pulling old ladies and puppies from burning buildings. I have chosen to complain, and I’m good at it, although as I also never leave the house I’m running low on things to complain about. I have to get creative.

So, having little else to do with my time, I checked out episodes 1-3 of FX’s new series Fargo, based on Fargo, the Coen Brothers film. Now, I have no problem with repurposing the universe, setting, and generally sensibility of that film into a TV series — I think we’re all beyond such weak tea considerations, aren’t we? I mean, who gives a shit where the inspiration for something came from? Keep re-telling those stories, whether it’s Batman or Fargo. As long as the retellings are interesting, I don’t care.

What I do care about is that the retellings are interesting and well done. On the one hand, Fargo tics all those “golden age of TV” boxes: Good production values, top talent in all the major roles in front of or behind the camera, and a slow, thoughtful approach to the story that allows it to unfold slowly in what will hopefully be a twisty little plot filled with surprises and horrifying commentary on human nature.

One thing Fargo the TV series does not have, as far as I can tell, is any concept of depth of character.

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The World’s End and Characterization Vs. Copout

By | April 18, 2014 | 0 Comments

The-Worlds-End2Recently watched The World’s End starring Simon Pegg and written by Pegg and frequent collaborator Edgar Wright. Didn’t love it, which was surprising because of the good reviews and the fact that I really enjoyed Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and even liked Scott Pilgrim well enough despite not being familiar with the comic and it being sort of ridiculous. I thought I was going to fall in love with TWE and ask it to marry me.

Instead, I enjoyed the first part and got bored the moment the skiffy element was introduced. What started off as an interesting, funny, and surprisingly moving tale of grown men dealing with childhood disappointment and the mundanity of adulthood just sort of went all cockeyed, for me. Your mileage may vary, of course, and if you loved it I have no argument to make.

It did make me think about some of my own early writing. This isn’t really a review of the film or even a discussion about it, it’s about my own writing tendencies. Which included a period where I would deal with emotional and character development issues by copping out and introducing a Deus Ex Skiffy.

DEUS EX SKIFFY (I Just Made That Up and Like It more than It Deserves)

What that means is, I used Sci Fi and Fantasy elements as a way of writing about things I was uncomfortable with, by not really writing about them at all. It went like this: I’d start a story about, say, a doomed love affair. After establishing the characters I’d get bored with/be afraid of where the story was heading, and would instead suddenly introduce a killer disease or alien invasion and pretend like this was what I’d intended to write about the whole time.

Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it doesn’t. Either way, the Deus Ex Skiffy is a copout.

The World’s End sort of has this feel to me. What starts off as a melancholy story about a man who is just starting to realize that he peaked at age 18 suddenly turns into a rather confused, muddled story of alien invasion that, frankly, makes very, very little sense. The film’s still fun, and worth watching, but as a standalone effort it’s kind a mess. And I think it may have been a similar writing exercise as my own failed attempts at solving knotty character problems by introducing killer robots: They just got bored with the story they were writing and worried it was a little slow and dull, and so they changed lanes and ended a totally different story.

I mean, there’s pretty much zero foreshadowing in the story. This may have been intentional to keep the surprise factor, but if so it was a miscalculation, because it only adds to the sense of separation between two entirely different stories. Believe me, I know; I’ve done it.

Shut the Fuck Up, Donny

By | April 10, 2014 | 0 Comments

Note: A version of this essay appeared in The Inner Swine Volume 4, Issue 2, circa 1998. I removed some meandering from the original essay but left in my juvenile abuse of dashes. You’re welcome. Also, 1998 was a hella long time ago and the Coen Brothers have released a lot of films since then, none of which factor into this essay.

MillerscrossingposterDislike and Disdain in the Films of the Coen Brothers

The Coen brothers, writers/directors/producers of the films Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo, and The Big Lebowski, are, without any doubt, two of the biggest Swines to ever gain national distribution of their films. Put simply, The Coen’s absolute dislike and disdain for their fellow human beings is almost a palpable story element in every one of their films. They hate us. They make no bones about hating us. And we love them for it.

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MWA @ KGB

By | March 19, 2014 | 0 Comments
BUY ME

BUY ME

So, last night I read at the KGB Bar in NYC as part of the MWA Reading Series. Organized and hosted by the great Richie Narvaez, this was a blast. All readings should be held in bars because this allows me to get drunk in a socially acceptable way as opposed to my typical socially unacceptable ways. It’s better for all involved, believe me.

Here are some awful, terrible photos of the event I took. I mean, awful. I obviously have no idea how to use modern technology and may be some sort of time traveler from the 19th Century pretending to be a modern man in service of some evil witchcraft, based on the these photos. I mean, have I ever even seen a camera before? Doubtful.

Here’s the Rogue’s Gallery:

Scott Adlerberg kicked us off with a work in progress, which takes balls – but he rocked it.

Scott Adlerberg

My wife was super excited to see Kimberly McCreight read:

Kimberly McCreight

Next up, Anthony Rainone:

Anthony Rainone

There was a short break during which I attempted to drink five shots of whiskey and wound up, as usual, pantsless in the bathroom. The Duchess and my Fearless Agent had to pull me together, dumps a bucket of cold water on me, and walk me back to the bar in time to see the great Alex Segura read:

Alex Segura

Then it was my turn. I read a chapter from CHUM. I took a photo of the crowd at KGB so I would remember where I was last night:

crowd

And, last but certainly not least, Albert Tucher read from one of his Diana Andrews stories:

Albert Tucher

A good time. Thanks to everyone who came out!

House of Cards and the Shakespeare Fakeout

By | February 25, 2014 | 0 Comments
Indeed.

Indeed.

Okey – I like House of Cards, largely because Kevin Spacey’s facial expressions in this NetFlix original are fucking-A priceless. The show itself is fucking-A ridiculous, and suffers from one fatal flaw that makes it almost – almost – an effort to watch. That flaw is simple: Frank never loses. Not only does he never lose, he never convincingly doubts the outcome, ever. Oh, the script pays homage to doubt. It walks doubt through a warm room and buys it a few drinks, flirting, but it never takes doubt home. Spacey’s performance, even when he’s reacting in rage or doubt, always hints that it’s just for show. And the writers always offer up a solution right away – a solution that is always exactly right.

So, you can be entertained by a show like that, but never really affected by it. Frank is a monster, and he always wins. If the final episode of this show in 2033 or whatever shows Frank in an old-age home, hallucinating that he once became President of the United States, that would not surprise me.

Richard the IV

Much has been made of House of Cards and its relationship to Shakespeare, notably its use of the aside as a narrative device and the parallels between several plays, such as Richard III, Macbeth, and Othello. The problem with these discussions is the fact that the plays being cited were tragedies, and while the protagonists did terrible things and often did so with black wit and a saucy lack of guilt, they generally could be said to have suffered for their hubris and power grabs.

Frank Underwood doesn’t suffer much. Now, maybe the next season will be all about Frank’s fall into disgrace and punishment (Ed: LORD I HOPE SO) but so far Frank is simply the smartest man in the room, and his mean-spirited and largely joyless attitude is justified by the fact that his superpower is always being right and never losing. He may be the least Shakespearean character in the modern tradition of using Shakespeare to imbue your characters with classic weight and gravitas.

No Scrubs

And that’s the problem. Frank’s relentless success is fucking boring. The cycle the show goes through roughly every forty minutes is this:

  1. Frank reveals sick, twisted plan to manipulate the shit out of everyone. Sneers at camera.
  2. Unbelievably complex plan that relies on people doing the stupidest thing possible because Frank planted a hint in their ear about it five minutes of screen time previously succeeds completely.
  3. Frank sneers at camera.

The details of the insane scheme are often entertaining, and Spacey is basically having the time of his life playing this character – it’s like going to the Zoo at feeding time to watch some lions devour raw meat in their enclosure. But there are no stakes. Because Frank is going to win, and you know that going in.

Now, plenty of shows require their protagonist to always win – because in TV land we must always have a main character to hang the next season of the show around. So, no points off for Frank actually always winning – but a setback would be nice. A believable threat. Maybe a solid half hour of screen time when it actually seems like Frank might be in actual, real trouble? And then some clever writing. That last bit is the tricky part.

Because, House of Cards is okay at a lot of things. Dialogue. Kevin Spacey Bitchface. Painting everyone in the universe as a sexual pervert and potential serial killer. One thing it is not okay at is plot. It treats plots like a box of feral cats it found on the street which keeps scratching its arms and puking on its feet. Everyone does what Frank wants because it’s the only way the writers on this show can think to keep the plot moving.

In the end, it doesn’t matter: The purpose of the show is to get you to pay Netflix $8 a month, and as far as that goes it works just fine. And there’s always the possibility that in Season 3, Frank will go full on Greg Stillson from The Dead Zone on us, having a threesome with his wife, his secret service agent, and the dead dog from Chapter 1 while he gleefully pounds the LAUNCH button, staring unblinkingly into the camera.

I’d pay to see that.

 

Gone Girl

By | December 27, 2013 | 2 Comments

So, after much cajoling by The Duchess, I read Gone Girl by GGGillian Flynn. It’s going to be a movie next year starring Ben Affleck and several dozen other people you’ll recognize, produced by Reese Witherspoon and most probably being the talk of the town for a week and then disappearing. As films do.

Anyways, I’ve been thinking about this book. Because it could be used in a creatve writing class to simultaneously demonstrate how to pull off some writing tricks well while also being used as an example of how to pull off some writing fundamentals really, really poorly. You don’t often find books that are simultaneously clever, well-written in spots, and disastrously bad nonetheless. It’s sort of made me obsessed with the book, frankly: On the one hand I am breathlessly jealous of Flynn for her genius twisty concept. On the other I am angry at the way she frittered it away. Let’s talk about it.

The Good

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

First of all, let’s be positive, the way they teach us in writing workshops. The twist is super clever, and cleverly handled, in my opinion. The creative use of unreliable narrator totally sets you up for the reveal, and it works. The first half of the book is very well observed, with both narrative voices working. I believed the marriage between Nick and Amy, I believed their slow descent into disdain and anger at each other, and I believed the ancillary characters. The mystery of what happened to Amy was intriguing, and overall I was sold.

The reveal itself was great, for a while at least.

What Flynn does very well is create a mystery. A down-home, old fashioned mystery. What happened to Amy? What’s Nick hiding? It’s set up really well and I was sucked in. The problem is that the books is all set up. It’s so much all set up that Flynn herself seems to lose interest in the book after the big reveal.

The Bad

So, spoilers: You know the basic plot, I guess, if you’re reading this. Nick’s wife Amy disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary, after much marital water has gone under the bridge. It looks very much like Amy was abducted violently, and that someone cleaned up the crime scene. Nick falls under immediate suspicion. The story is told in alternating first-person narratives, Nick in the present day and Amy via diary entries that seem to detail a romance and marriage falling apart, and a husband getting angrier and more abusive. Then, it’s revealed that Nick is having an affair, Amy knew of it, and she stages her own kidnapping in order to punish him, by framing him for her murder and watching him rot on Death Row.

Yup, it’s quite a twist. It’s borderline ridiculous, but could have been sold if Flynn had handled it better. The audacity of the twist almost sells the book by sheer power, in fact. The problem is simple: Flynn plays dirty, so dirty that the second you get over your amazement at the reveal you get pissed off.

Using faked diary entries from Amy – written by her but intended to present the police with a totally false depiction of her life with Nick in order to set him up as an angry, abusive husband – totally works because, as with all unreliable narrators, we’re fooled into thinking it’s real. That’s a simple trick. The problem is that while the Fake Amy in the diary makes sense to us, the Real Amy whose distasteful, sociopathic Voice takes over in part two of the novel is so awful you simply cannot believe for one second that anyone likes her, much less marries this monstrous woman.

Yes, she’s pretty. And we’re told a lot of other things about her to explain her ability to lure people into thinking she loves them while simultaneously being horrible to them. But that’s the real problem with the character (all the characters, really): We’re told these things. The characters themselves do not behave in any way that makes sense.

We’re told that Amy is brilliant, yet she acts incredibly foolishly beyond her clever frame-up of Nick. We’re told that Amy is vindictive and dangerous, yet when she is victimized at one point in the second half of the book she takes no revenge and meekly allows two grifters to steal all her money. This is a woman who frames her husband for her own murder in order to punish him, yet when two minor characters rob her she does nothing. We’re told that Amy can charm people and make them feel like they’re special to her, but we don’t actually see how that’s possible because the Amy we see is awful, all the time.

Nick’s an unreliable narrator as well, and that’s where things get stupid, because we’re in Nick’s head. Amy’s diary was a fake, so it’s acceptable that she’s lying – it’s done purposefully. Nick’s narration has no such device. He’s just narrating his life to us. Why in the world would he purposefully not think about the woman he’s having an affair with for the first third or more of the book? No reason, aside from Flynn’s clumsy need to keep his affair as a twist to shock the reader. We’re also told a lot of things about Nick that his actual behavior doesn’t support, like his feelings about his father and his feelings for the woman he’s screwing around with. Nick is a device, Amy is a device. Neither are characters.

The Ugly

Now, all of this would have been gleefully forgiven if the book had ended well. I’ll stipulate. If the book had a great ending I would have mentioned my carping about narrators and show-dont-tell and all that other stuff only after a few drinks and some encouragement.

The ending is not good.

The ending is so not good, you can literally feel Flynn running out of steam. The chapters get shorter. The writing more terse. She’s barely there, just tapping out contractually-obligated words to give the whole mess some sort of form. Characters behave in increasingly ridiculous ways, all justified by the supposedly awesome, unbelievable power of Amy, who is apparently, by book’s end, simply an elemental force. Unstoppable. You have to either believe that Amy is absolute power personified, or the ending become ridiculous and unsupportable. And I don’t use the word unsupportable lightly. The ending is so bad it requires not just a suspension of disblief, but a willing disregard of the concept.

And as I said, the worst part is the perfunctory way Flynn writes these last chapters. We’re called to believe that a) Nick cannot in any way prove Amy’s actions despite having a high-powered lawyer and a pretty good idea of exactly what she did – and a sympathetic police ear, b) Despite knowing how awful she is he would allow himself to be bullied into living in the same house with her, c) Despite knowing how awful she is he would remain married to her and d) when she performs her final repugnant act, impregnating herself with semen culled from masturbatory tissues Nick just left lying around the house (really! REALLY!) Nick would simply roll over and resign himself to spending his life living with a sociopath.

That’s a lot of heavy lifting for a writer, but Flynn presents these final chapters as brief sketches. There’s so little effort and detail it’s almost surreal. I could literally picture her just grinding out those final few thousands words with her agent or editor’s edit letter on the desk next to her and a half-finished bottle of liquor by her hand.

It’ll make a better movie, I think. And it’s not that the book isn’t enjoyable. It just made me angry.

Everything Old is New Again: Doctor Who

By | December 10, 2013 | 1 Comments

12dwAs River Song would say: SPOILERS.

SO, Doctor Who. I remember it, vaguely, form my childhood. My older brother, always a sucker for old-school monster stories, liked it for a while during the gory, gothic-tinged Tom Baker era and being a younger brother I naturally avoided it in public and then watched it secretly a few times and was scared witless by Tom Baker’s Insanity Grin. Then I forgot about it for a long time, and when it was reborn in 2005 I barely paid attention. Over the years I’ve occasionally heard a few things about it, seen come clips on YouTube etc., but generally ignored it, as any good American should.

Recently, for no reason whatsoever beyond being intrigued by the hype surrounding the 50th Anniversary of the show, I started watching. I sprinkled in some of the classics and a few of the older new episodes, but mainly I started watching the Matt Smith era for no other reason than there seemed like there were some interesting details in there. And for those who are already wondering: Yes, I watched Blink. It was actually the first episode I tried out, and based on it’s success I forged on. So stop asking me if I’ve seen Blink. I have.

Anyways, Dcotor Who has always been problematic for me, and remains problematic. In the old series I was always bothered by the slow pace, rough editing, terrible special effects, and the silly costumes. In the modern series they’ve solved many of those problems but some of the plot problems remain. All in all I think I’m in a Love/Hate relationship with this show at the moment. It’s sort of like an old friend from elementary school who comes back to stay with you for a while. You have fond memories, and you find him good company sometimes, but it’s just kind of strange.

Or maybe I’m more haunted by Tom Baker’s Insanity Smile than I’m letting on. LOOK AT IT (you can’t look away):

HOLY SHIT

HOLY SHIT

The World is Ending! Again! And Again! And Again and Again!

So, let’s keep in mind that I am mainly familiar with the Steven Moffat/Matt Smith era. I know a lot of the general backstory and some specifics from previous incarnations, but let’s stipulate that I’m playing with half a deck. Still, I have observations about this most modern version of the show.

The first is simple: It is a lot of fun.

People often say that Doctor Who is a children’s program, and it is, to an extent. The science is all wobbly and the history is too, but there is an awful lot of fun  in the stories, the sense that danger is fleeting, death impossible, and that we’d all prefer to be flying around the universe rather than, say, going to work. Yes! That. There are dramatic moments and even deaths from time to time (not counting the 12 times the Doctor himself has ‘regenerated,’ stated as canon as a type of death, since what makes him him dies and his memories are reborn as someone new) but generally speaking this is a show where the universe is a playground and even the most dire of threats are resolved by the end of the episode – or the story arc, at the very least.

The characterizations are fun, too. The Doctor himself is played with an affecting mix of boyish charm, wonder, curiosity, heavy sadness, and insane temper, but always with a human heart somewhere under all the alien physiology. The companions I’m most familiar with, The Ponds, make for fun people as well, and have supported some very effective dramatic beats in the story.

Overall, I’m saying: Don’t take any of my criticisms to mean I’m not a fan. I am! I really enjoy it.

But.

The problem with the modern Doctor Who is simple: The world is always ending. The world is always ending and Amelia Pond is always near death or being tortured or abandoned for 36 years or having her baby torn from her loving arms. Always. Always. This is an effective strategy for telling interesting, compelling stories … until it isn’t, because my dramatic/end of the world chip is burned out.

Moments

The modern Doctor Who always wants moments – which is to say, Steven Moffat, the showrunner, wants moments. As in, Moments. The show craves those big, dramatic, emotional moments like a writer craves booze. That is, constantly. Few episodes go by without a big emotional beat between characters, or the end of the world, whichever is happening sooner. After so many partings of the way and heartfelt declarations of affection and epic this and epic that, my Epic Emotion Chip gets a little burnt out. These sorts of moments are meant to happen rarely in any story. Not every single episode. Not to mention the fact that Amy Pond has, let’s see, been abandoned several times, suffered childhood psychological trauma, been assaulted and near death, been kidnapped and had her baby taken away from her to be raised as an assassin, been split into two versions one of which was left to rot and fight robots for thirty-six years, robbed of her ability to have more children, and eventually banished to the past to live out her years decades before her own parents and everyone she knows is born. And yet at no point is there any serious suggestion that Amy has suffered, you know? Because she got to go on adventures in between these horrific moments.

After a while you get tired of The Girl Who Waited and want her to get some peace and stop being Moffat’s little Emotional Beat monkey.

Of course, part of this is a product of binge-watching – fair enough. I’m not waiting weeks or months for the next episode – I’m just porning my way through them, and why not. The thing is, once you release a work, you can’t force people to watch in some very slow way so your emotional beats feel measured. That sort of thing has to be baked in.

The Bandage

Part of this is, I think, a reaction to the fact that Doctor Who has never had the greatest plots. Now, 800 or episodes is a lot of storytelling, so I will grant that not only have some of them been very good, but Doctor Who has a certain structure and feel to it that remains even in the new version. It’s a Monster of the Week serial and always has been: Most episodes can be boiled down to a few basic plot points:

1. Doctor and Companion arrive somewhere, usually unexpectedly

2. There is mystery. Doctor surmises alien of some sort is behind it.

3. Doctor investigates/opposes, seems out of moves and about to lose

4. Twist = Victory!

Now, certainly not every single episode follows this pattern – but most do, and it works well enough, even when the Monster of the Week is the Daleks Yet Again or the Cybermen Yet Again. But the point is it works precisely because Moffat et al have created characters we really do care about. The Doctor is kind of charming, especially with the spice of his darker side emphasized. The Ponds were charming and hilarious, and their back story in regards to each other and the Doctor was affecting. That stuff worked, and it distracts from the fact that most of the mysteries are explained, somehow, via timey-wimey and a sonic screwdriver. In other words, Moffat basically writes himself into a corner and then shouts TIME LORD!, throws a smoke bomb, and escapes yet again. You can do that when your character has 50 years and 800 episodes of history, but goddamn it, Moffat is abusing the TIME LORD/SMOKE BOMB button. If you ask me.

Which no one has. Am I thinking too hard about this? Likely. I tend to get all obsessive with things like this – I ignore them for years while others are telling me to check them out, and then suddenly, as if it was my idea all along, I dive in, burrow deep, and live and breathe it for a while.

I do enjoy the show and will keep watching it. But that doesn’t mean the Smoke Bomb’s gonna keep working on me.

Why “Scandal” Worked – At First

By | November 6, 2013 | 0 Comments

DAMNThat’s right, Imma about to write about the ABC show Scandal starring Kerry Washington. The TL:DR version is: I never would have watched this unless forced to by The Duchess, then briefly found it balls-out brilliant, and now not so much.

Here’s the long version: So, like I said, The Duchess commanded one day that we check out Scandal because people were talking about it and The Duchess loves her some zeitgeist. And I do what I’m told or things get broken. So we started to watch.

Right about here is where spoilers might start happening. Just sayin’.

At first it was kind of dumb: The editing tricks were headache-inducing, and the whole idea of the super-connected Olivia Pope schtupping the President in secret was only mildly interesting. I find a lot of Shonda Rimes’ writing tricks a bit shopworn and annoying at this stage; any attraction they had for me eleventy billion years ago when Grey’s Anatomy launched has been worn away. But it was serviceable, and The Duchess liked it, so we hung in. And for a short period of time, during the Defiance Arc, as it’s known, this show became so adorably fucked up insane it was absolutely entertaining.

The Defiance Arc was brilliant because just as you assumed the whole point of the show was OMFG THE PRESIDENT IS SCHTUPPING OLIVIA POPE! the show set you up and then hit you over the head with a conspiracy that stole the election that elected President Fitz-whatshisname. A conspiracy that involved the First Lady, a Supreme Court Justice, a Texas Oilman, the future Chief of Staff, and Olivia Pope – but not the President, who thought he’d won the election fair and square. This was such a demented plot twist that it carried the show for a while solely on the fumes of its audacity. Along the way, the President murdered the Supreme Court justice while she lay dying of cancer in the hospital, to give you a hint of just how demented it all got.

That was then. The Defiance Arc was resolved and the show must go on, so it’s been casting about for other ways to distract us from awe-inspiring awfulness that is the central relationships of the show (and the fact that the main character is so lacking definition she basically does batshit things all the time for no reason and does not in any way resemble the character introduced in the pilot at all unless you count consuming red wine in volume, in which case, a little bit). These ways have so far involved creating larger and more ridiculous straw villains who Rule the Universe – even more powerful than the President! – who also have intimate connections to Olivia et al. It’s so hammy by this point I fully expect Olivia to wake up in the shower one day and it was all a dream.

The reason Defiance worked was that the central idea was demented, and wonderfully so – but the mechanics of it were mundane. The way they stole the election? Simple, clean, and small-scale. It made sense, once you suspended disbelief sufficiently. The new arcs are now so soapy and silly I’m cleaner after watching this show and that DOES NOT happen when I watch TV, usually.

Ah well, I just wrote 550 words on a TV show no one will remember twenty years from now. I feel dirty.

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