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Archive for the ‘television’ Category

Atonement

I’m fascinated by how we cross-evaluate ideas in the various realms of fiction. We can have what is essentially the same narrative idea, but it’s worth is continually judged not only on its merits but in the context of its expression.

To my mind there is no clearer example of this than Ian McEwan’s Atonement. Now that the acclaimed book is going to receive even broader exposure thanks to the recent movie adaptation with Scary Keira Knightly, I’m reminded of this issue.

Don’t read any further if you wish to remain unspoiled for either the book or the movie, because what I’m going to talk about is the Big Shocker Ending which played such a fundamental role in the acclaim for the novel.

The book concerns how one lie taints the entire lives of a dozen or so people. The movie’s press would of course have you believe that the lie is a “small” one, when it is relatively huge–as it involves falsely implicating a man in the rape of a young girl.

The novel plays out in four acts, as we watch the various characters live their lives as changed by the initial false witness. The first act sets up the lie, the second act shows the conflict of the ramifications of the lie and the the third act has a happy ending where the truth is told at last and all is made right with the world. The last stage–the twist, which in the movie is played by Vanessa Redgrave–is that there is no happy ending. The book’s “author” reveals that SHE is the liar and SHE wrote the book with a happy ending in order to atone for her sin. Which in ‘reality’ has a sadder, more realistic outcome.

All of this is written by Ian McEwan and is very well-crafted and literary.

But none of it is particularly shocking to anyone who watched the last two-part episode of Rosanne.

Because that popular TV show ended the same way, with the same authorial conceit of a fictional author rewriting the fictional story with a fictional sad ending. That was about 5 years before Atonement was published, of course. At the time it was considered lazy writing, vulgar and a disappointment to fans.

Of course, Roseanne was not ever shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

And that’s what fascinates me–that constant need we have to not only weigh the merits of a thing on its ideas but on its packaging.

Roseanne was a lower-middle-class, populist sitcom. It doesn’t seem unconventional now that there have been so many lesser imitators, but the show was groundbreaking. However, it was a groundling entertainment directed at the masses. So it’s not the literary acheivement of a “shocking” work like Atonement.

But it was, and is, the same stuff. The same ideas. The same challenging of preconceptions. Why is one high art and the other tossed aside in the afternoons wrapped around Bart Durham ads?

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How did [this show] make it on to the air while Arrested Development got cancelled?

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Because I’m “special” and “bored”, I’ve been downloading the NBC Season Premieres on Amazon Unbox. What does that mean? Well, it means that I got to watch three shows early–>two of which I hadn’t planned to watch at all, so I guess it’s better early than never in their case.

The third I did plan to watch, and I have to say I think I’m glad I saw it early. That way I’m not disappointed by counting down the days until its release, only to sit 43 minutes later on my couch wondering what happened.

I’ll be honest. I miss the electronic thrum/slo-mo “bionic” effects. I have to say that up front, because I think the lack of bionic noise really affected my like for this show more than I realised. The other thing I have to say upfront is that I was pretty laced with phenergan (anti-nausea medicine) while watching this and was, as Pink would say, comfortably numb. So take that into account when I say

what the frak was that?!?

Apparently the bright, sunny, phonebook ripping days of bionicness are over. And apparently the Boys Who Made BSG are really in love with the whole idea of Robot Blondes Who Torment Mankind. (David Eick is involved in both.) In fact, I’ve developed a handy “Ways Bionic Woman Is A Rip Off Of BSG” chart for your perusal.

bionic.jpg

Now, I’m not kidding myself. I know most of you will turn on for the girl-on-girl. All the same, I still miss the noise.

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Why I Don’t Like Mad Men

…the TV show. (I shouldn’t have to explain why I’m not overly fond of the clinically, violently insane.)

I had never heard of AMC’s summer series Mad Men until it began showing up on blogs. Sepinwall liked it, and I’m usually down for whatever catches Sepinwall’s eye.  He reminds me of a grown-up version of my old high-school friend Bill H—-s.  Same taste in music, same taste in entertainment and same dry wit backed up by the power of analytical insight into persons and processes.   If Bill had a blog I’d read that, but I don’t think he does.  Although I understand he’s now a pharmaceutical rep, so it’d be way cool if he did blog–then he could call it something like ‘Drugstore Cowboy’.   I’m just sure that name’s not taken.

Anyway, back to the TV show this blog entry is ostensibly about.   I tried to get caught up on Mad Men this morning, catching a few backlogged episodes on Comcast’s nifty OnDemand service before work.

In all the time I’ve watched TV and movies I’ve only ever seen three other works which have the same utter strength this show has.   The Godfather; The Godfather Part II; and Zodiac all share one unique trait with Mad Men.   With most TV shows and movies you feel a certain remove.  There’s always a part of your brain which understands that “this is ostensibly set in NinteenWhenever, but it was really filmed in this year on a set of some type.”   It’s that scrim of disconnect which allows most viewers a bit of comfort.   It allows your subconscious to reconcile any good or bad events as mere things of the play, and not intrusions onto reality.   But those three films, and now Mad Men as well, lack that.   The creators of those movies have worked a hard spell and actually take you directly to 1946 New York, a 1970s California newsroom and Madison Avenue.    For better or worse you have fallen into the story completely; so much so that it in many ways ceases to be story and becomes immersive experience.

Which is the problem with Mad Men.   I’ll be honest, of the four episodes available to me, I could only make it through two and a half.   Because it is so completely immersive–and there is not one single truly likeable character to serve as the viewer’s Virgil.    Every character is craven or crazy.   They are liars and cheats driven by self-interest.  Every piece of dialogue is a tug-of-war between Angry and Confused.     Added to that dearth of likable characters is the fact that part of the Total Immersion requires a complete abandonment of 2007 sensibilities with regard to ethnic relations and feminism.   One exchange:  “Have we hired any Jews?”–“Not on my watch!…Want me to go down to the Deli and get one?”   Yeah.  That’s entertainment!

Which I suppose is what I’m trying to say.   Mad Men may very well be a masterpiece.  It’s artfully designed in the way that so few things are.   Everything seems painstakingly assembled.   But the world they take you to, the world the creators have gone to such trouble to replicate, is not entertaining.    I would show this program to a class as part of a lecture series.   In fact,  I’ve spent much of today pondering how my parents dealt with a world like that and how they and others worked to make my life experience so much richer than what seemed to be available in 1960.   But to sit down and watch this after a hard day’s work, dog in one hand and a snack in the other?   Not in a million years.

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It’s Official! Again!

I’m addicted to The Wire. My sister brought her Season 2 DVDs from Netflix, and we’ve been watching Sobotkas, containers and Omar all morning.

Whenever The Wire is on, I cannot look away.

Which brings to mind another question…is the actor playing D’angelo Barksdale really related to the woman who plays D’Angelo’s mom?

They really do look alike.

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It’s Official!

I no longer care one iota about Gray’s Anatomy.

There are a number of reasons, honestly. But I realised today when I read this article what one of my issues is.

I originally liked the show because they had a good mix of people–like the real world. Everybody wasn’t white, skinny and beautiful.

Then George cheated on his not-skinny but still beautiful, smart and funny wife with the skinny pretty blonde and I started to lose interest, fast. And now they’ve fired a black actor but are bringing on another skinny pretty white woman.

Yawn.

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According to the Entertainment Weekly I was just reading in the bathroom, there is a big writers’ strike looming on Hollywood’s horizon.   Like everyone else in America, the Writers of Great TV (Vanished. Twenty Good Years) do not believe they are properly compensated for their work.   They are going to go on strike to show the Big Corporations how badly the Corporate Bottom Line will be affected by the loss of Great TV (Pirate Master.  Six Degrees. The Nine.)

The article–which I tried to find on the Internet, but failed–talks about how much ground the Writers lost during their last big negotiation in 1988.   But the really good part, the part that made me laugh out loud in the bathroom at 5:30 in the morning, was where this one dude said something along the lines of “now the Internet is here, and with YouTube revolutionising the distribution models we the writers no longer need Big Corporations to distribute our product.”

Ha!

That’s extremely funny.  Writer Dude, I can’t even find this news article online.  The Internet is a big place.  It’s a big place chock full of talented writers who are hoping and praying and typing their fingers to the nub that they even get looked at by an agent.   There are not many–if any–writers out there pulling down big bucks by putting their homecrafted sitcoms on YouTube.

In fact, do you even get what YouTube is?  It’s a bajillion videos of people’s cats playing on the curtains with purloined Dave Matthews music as the soundtrack.  It’s a vast wasteland of copyright violation–a no-man’s land of stolen work product doled out piecemeal.   All those  “quality shows” you have been paid princely sums to write have their funniest three minutes aired for free on YouTube.   The only people making any money out of the “YouTube Phenomenon” are the two guys whose idea it was.  They sold that enterprise to Google for a sum approaching the net worth of the entire continent of South America.   Google still hasn’t figured out how to make YouTube pay for itself.   They certainly won’t give you piles of cash for your sitcom.

Here’s the thing.  If you’ve been lucky and/or good enough to score a writing gig for Network Television, and the show you wrote is now being sold online at the Apple Store or Amazon UnBox, then by skippy you should get a portion of that revenue.  Absolutely.

But please know that you look silly when you threaten to take your ball and go to the Internet for big writer money.

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Big Orange Michael has a post today that reminded me of a rant I’ve been meaning to have. Since I’m having a krep day, I figured now is as good a time as any.

According to an article in this morning’s Wall Street Journal, TV networks are courting bloggers for some much-needed publicity for their shows.

My first, big question is–why in the world isn’t there a message in my in-box from one of the myriad of networks? I will totally and completely sell-out to you if you’ll send me screeners of things or swag…So, any shows that want to reach out to me (esp. Lost, Battlestar Galactica, 24) and have me shill for you…drop me a line!

And here we have the problem with Viral Marketing versus Opinion. To me the true value of having a blog is in having a platform where your opinions and experiences can be accessed by anyone with a search tool. Viral Marketing compromises the worth of a blogger’s opinion. In my opinion.

My first real brush with Viral Marketing came from the Relive the Magic DVD folks. One day, seemingly out of nowhere, I started seeing Disney World bloggers and podcasters just raving about these wonderful DVDs. Just imagine! For only $250 you too could have the entire Walt Disney World universe on DVD, to revisit whenever you like. Now, these were bloggers, reviewers and podcasters I trusted. I trusted them because I’d been reading them and listening to their shows for years. So, as a combined birthday/anniversary present we bought a set last year. And they were awful. Come to find out, nearly everyone who recommended them did so because they received up to a FIFTY PERCENT CUT of all sales which came from their readers. In short, they were paid more than as much as $100 a pop to recommend a terrible product, so they did it.

I no longer listen to one of those podcasters and have stopped going to most of those blogs for that exact reason. They blew their trust with me.

::Ooops. I hit enter, then the phone rang. Bloggus Interruptus. Back to the tale::

So anyway, I think it’s great when bloggers’ opinions are taken seriously by the media. And I think it’s great that if you’re really a fan of something and blog well about it that the Powers That Be will occasionally send you a t-shirt or DVD out of gratitude. But it’s dangerous to rave about something that isn’t good just because you’re paid for it. I’ve had more than one occasion where I really liked something and wrote a raving blog review about it–only to find that later I didn’t care for it as time went on. My new policy is try something for an extended period of time before praising it here. If it’s a restaurant I’ll eat there more than once. If it’s a show, I’ll watch it more than once. If it’s a book I’ll only praise it once I make it to the end. Some writers just can’t sustain. (Lincoln Child, I’m lookin’ at you, kid.)

In the past I’ve learned that people take blog opinions very seriously. So I’m trying to be more serious about what opinions I put out here. And they are not for sale.

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  • Twitter is dead. Any technology which thrives upon mass adoption should be prepared for actual mass-adoption. In short, don’t get everyone to use it if your software and servers aren’t up to it. 90% of my Twitter ‘tweet’s get eaten. Plus there’s the whole anarchic aspect of it, which doesn’t bode well for human interaction.
  • You take the good with the bad, I guess. CBS has cancelled Jericho, but renewed How I Met Your Mother. I’m a little bit surprised, because I thought Jericho was doing well. And I absolutely love that show. But if it’s the sacrifice I have to make to keep HIMYM on the air, then I’m down with that. Folks, let me tell you something. I mean it seriously. The first season of HIMYM is on DVD. The second season will be on DVD over the summer. If you haven’t watched the show, get the DVDs and burn through them. Because I promise you this. HIMYM is the closest thing we will probably ever get to another Arrested Development. Granted, it’s an AD diluted with conventional sitcom scenarios–think Arrested Development meets Friends–but it’s still a masterful piece of comedy. And we’ve still got three slaps to go. Get the DVDs, suit up and watch them all. I guarantee you, it’ll be legen….wait for it….dary.
  • Please continue to lift my odd little family up in prayer. Still no word yet on husband’s job situation.
  • OOPS.  Forgot to add:   There’s a little bit of a movement about which I can get behind, even though it’s a bit ironic.   It’s the “Books not Bags” movement for Harry Potter.   In short, when you get your Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows copy in 65 days, please refuse the bag in order to spare the environment.   Okay, I know it’s a drop in the bucket but it’s not an idea that hurts anybody.  Unless you make bookstore bags for a living…   And yes, I see the irony in taking an 800 page book made of paper and ink and claiming to Save the Environment by refusing the bag.   But whatever.   It’s a nice little idea and a good thing to do, so please join in.

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NBC Fall Schedule

Details Here.

Good news: they’re bringing back Friday Night Lights

Bad news: they’re bringing back Law & Order.

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