Posts tagged with "television" - Faerye Net 2011-12-03T15:54:36+00:00 Felicity Shoulders Frozen 2011-12-03T15:54:36+00:00 2012-01-03T16:52:35+00:00 <center><a href="" title="Polar bear cubs. by USFWSAlaska, on Flickr"><img src="" width="500" height="328" border="0" alt="Polar bear cubs."></a></center> <p>So <a href="">Ryan</a> and I have been watching <a href="" target="links"><em>Frozen Planet</em></a>, and I realize I may be a little obsessed.</p> <p>For example, when describing to a hapless class of high school sophomores the other day how language and the exchange of stories allows us to create continuous culture, I said otherwise we would have to learn everything from scratch, &#8220;like baby polar bears emerging from a snow den for the first time.&#8221; Because, you know, that was the obvious metaphor?</p> <p>Or how I drive along thinking about narwhal traffic jams. Or I look at my friends&#8217; dogs and think about how odd it was someone looked at those terrible wolves slavering along after caribou or bison and thought, &#8220;I want one of <em>those</em> in my house!&#8221;</p> <p>I think it&#8217;s the focused nature of this special that makes it stick so much in my mind: not <em>what</em> it&#8217;s about so much as that it&#8217;s about one thing. The <em>Planet Earth</em> series was a collection of dazzling and fascinating sights, but so different they didn&#8217;t leave an overall impression save that of majesty and variety. This is a symphony with overarching themes. It leaves you looking about you for the cycles in your own life, in humans: the frozen winter that gives way, all of a sudden, to a brief, frenetic period of creation and growth. I think how important it is to seize those moments of sunwarmed opportunity and beauty; but also to know that they will, like the summer sun, always come again.</p> Top Ten Reasons You Should Be Watching "Life" 2009-03-26T22:23:49+00:00 2009-03-26T22:25:01+00:00 <p>A while back, I started watching <a href="" target="links"><em>Life</em></a>. There were two reasons for this. One is that all the episodes that then existed were free online at <a href="" target="links">Hulu</a>. The other reason is Damian Lewis, who played Winters in <em>Band of Brothers</em>, and, along with Ron Livingston, made me feel very conflicted. Is it wrong to crush on actors when they&#8217;re playing real people who are as old as my grandpa and portraying important historical events? Oh, the conflict.</p> <p>At any rate, I was hooked on <em>Life</em> immediately, but didn&#8217;t spread the news. I think I was obscurely ashamed of the show, mostly because it is weird. It&#8217;s a good weird, though. A very deliberate weird. So, I&#8217;m letting the world know: if you&#8217;re not watching <em>Life</em>, you should be.</p> <p><strong>Top Ten Reasons You Should Be Watching <em>Life</em></strong>:</p> <p><strong>10. It&#8217;s not like every other cop show.</strong> Since the premise (cop Charlie Crews gets sentenced to life for triple murder he didn&#8217;t commit, then gets exonerated and insists on being a cop again as part of his settlement) is a little far-fetched, so is everything else. The murders, suspects and situations are zany, often surreal. It&#8217;s not a cop show that could be set anywhere but LA. It&#8217;s not a cop show you could confuse with any old procedural on the air.</p> <p><strong>9. Crews&#8217;s silly amounts of money.</strong> And the silly things the show does with it, like the musical chairs with Charlie&#8217;s car.</p> <p><strong>8. Cinematography.</strong> Ryan can tell you more about this, but it&#8217;s not shot like any old show, either. Nice light, interesting angles.</p> <p><strong>7. No goddamn inter-partner sexual tension.</strong> Yes, Damian Lewis and Sarah Shahi are both hot. Yes, the viewing public will probably enjoy that. No, the writers are not using it to create constant, stupid sexual tension like every show for the last twenty-plus years of television. Hallelujah!</p> <p><strong>6. Surprises.</strong> They&#8217;re not shaking up the formula every week or pulling a Joss every season, but there are enough people getting shot or starting relationships that you didn&#8217;t expect that you stay on your toes.</p> <p><strong>5. The music.</strong> Ryan says the <span class="caps">DVD</span> doesn&#8217;t have the same music as the aired episodes (I believe Hulu does) but it tends to be unusual, good, and add to the episodes in an intelligent, fun way.</p> <p><strong>4. The supporting characters.</strong> Often mystery shows that have to present a new cast of suspects and victims every week fall into shorthand, but this show doesn&#8217;t rely on that. They depict different parts of a very diverse LA every week, and the characters are idiosyncratic, varied, human. Some of the recurring characters are played by great actors like Adam Arkin and (Saffron/Yolanda/Bridget) Christina Hendricks.</p> <p><strong>3. Sarah Shahi.</strong> Danni Reese could have been a simple straight-man cop character, but Shahi does a fabulous job of depicting her with layers and edges.</p> <p><strong>2. The writing.</strong> There&#8217;s the cop banter over the weird cases, Charlie&#8217;s ongoing attempts to view his odd life through Zen, his off-kilter questions to suspects, and his unquenchable passion for fruit. It&#8217;s unexpected without trying too hard. It&#8217;s droll without being dumb.</p> <p><strong>1. Damian Lewis.</strong> He&#8217;s a fabulous actor. I mean, I like Hugh Laurie as much as the next Wodehouse addict, but Damian Lewis&#8217;s American accent is the best I can recall hearing from a Brit. And his delivery of all the great lines in #2? Pitch-perfect straight-faced hilarity. His character is complex and winning.</p> <p>Of course the show has its weak points. Everything does. I am not 100% convinced they had cemented the entire backstory/conspiracy before they started writing it, and there are some conceits and characters in Season 1 they ditched by Season 2. But it&#8217;s a good show, only getting better. Go watch <em>Life</em>.</p> Battlestar Galactica strikes back 2008-12-01T22:47:25+00:00 2008-12-01T22:48:27+00:00 <p><a href="">Season 2</a> of <em>Battlestar Galactica</em> disappointed me. &#8220;Disappointed me&#8221; is a weak term. It took all my trust and affection and wrung them out of me, then pressure-washed the floor to make sure no traces stained the concrete. Only Fox&#8217;s Cancellation Department (motto: You like it? We kill it!) has ever used TV against me to better effect. So when people said Season 3 was good, I laughed cynically and ran away. When Ryan said he was going to watch it, I performed last rites just in case. When he told me it was &#8216;awesome&#8217;, I told him, &#8220;I&#8217;ll let you sing your canary song from a leeeetle deeper in that mineshaft.&#8221;</p> <p>But Ryan knows me very well. He knows that I love Lucy Lawless, that I&#8217;m insatiably curious, and that I love a good space battle. He bought the premiere in HD. And here I am again, with that horrible tooth-grinding narrative tension settled in my bones. That lean forward from the couch so easily readopted. We&#8217;re so weak, we humans. (I mean, Joss Whedon is <em>working</em> with Fox again. We are a weak species.) Please, <span class="caps">BSG</span>, keep rocking. I don&#8217;t think I can heal again. I&#8217;m taking you back, but don&#8217;t break my heart.</p> The Wire and literary form 2008-06-10T16:22:17+00:00 2008-06-12T16:01:44+00:00 <p>This is more or less a review of <span class="caps">HBO</span>&#8217;s <em>The Wire</em>, all 5 seasons of which I devoured within this calendar year. However, it&#8217;s also a rambling musing about the nature of the novel.</p> <p>I was glad to see <a href="" target="links">Jervey Tervalon</a> say in his piece in <em><a href="" target="links">A Public Space</a></em> Issue 5, &#8220;The Revenge of the Angry Black Artist&#8221;: <br /> <blockquote>Oddly enough, what gives me hope is that shining light of literary ambition, the astonishing <em>Wire</em>. The <span class="caps">HBO</span> television series that aspires to be the <em>War and Peace</em> of the declining American city&#8230;</blockquote></p> <p>Mr. Tervalon is praising the &#8220;complex and integrated representation of African-American life&#8221; on the show, but the terms in which he&#8217;s done it are the same ones I have been using myself to express the scope of the show: it&#8217;s a novel. I started digging, and discovered that, just as we geeks know that <span class="caps">JMS</span> said <em>Babylon 5</em> was a novel in television form, <em>The Wire</em>&#8217;s creator, David Simon, has called his show a &#8220;visual novel&#8221; or just &#8220;a novel&#8221; in interviews. has <a href="" target="links">concurred</a>.</p> <p>So apparently I&#8217;m in good company. But this verdict on <em>The Wire</em> gives rise to the question, what the hell is a novel anyway?</p> <p>Being a good little writing student (in a few weeks, a highly credentialed writing professional), I run right to John Gardner&#8217;s <em>The Art of Fiction</em>. Okay, so my copy is packed in a box, so I search the internet for kernels of wisdom from <em>The Art of Fiction</em>. Luckily, Gardner is heavily quoted:</p> <blockquote>A novel is like a symphony in that its closing movement echoes and resounds with all that has gone before. [snip comparison with novella] Toward the close of a novel, the writer brings back &#8211; directly or in the form of his characters recollections &#8211; images, characters, events, and intellectual motifs encountered earlier. Unexpected connections begin to surface; hidden causes become plain; life becomes, however briefly and unstably, organized, the universe reveals itself if only for the moment, as inexorably moral; the outcome of various characters&#8217; actions is at least manifest and we shall see the responsibility of free will. It is this closing orchestration that the novel exists for. If such a close does not come, for whatever theoretically good reason, we shut the book with feelings of dissatisfaction, as if cheated.</blockquote> <p>This is a pretty tall order (and, as Gardner admits, assumes a moral authorial universe). It is, in fact, an aspirational definition rather than a pragmatic one. The pragmatic one is some variation on &#8220;long written, fictional, prose narrative&#8221; (this phrasing from Wikipedia). Even we starry-eyed litgeeks use this definition, or else how can you explain my having applied the tag &#8220;novel&#8221; to things like <a href="" target="links"><em>Whisker of Evil</em></a>?</p> <p>Is the aspirational definition even useful, riven as it is by contradiction? (Even Gardner says both &#8220;It imitates the world in all its complexity; we not only look closely at various characters, we hear rumors of distant wars and marriages, we glimpse characters whom, like people on the subway, we will never see again. Too much neatness in a novel kills the novel’s fundamental effect.&#8221; and &#8220;The novel is elegant and efficient; that is, it does not use more scenes, characters, physical details, and technical devices than it needs to do its job.&#8221;) Is the existence and maintenance of this idealized &#8216;novel&#8217; just a symptom of parochial literary thinking &#8211; a way of justifying the novel&#8217;s centrality in literary discourse and marketing, its place as the proof of an aspiring author&#8217;s skill and seriousness, its pervasiveness in the canon? After all, it doesn&#8217;t sound so impressive if we say that in order to be taken seriously, a writer must prove she or he can write <em>a really long story</em>.</p> <p>Perhaps the place where the heroic concept of &#8216;novel&#8217; really comes in handy is the place I stand now: trying to use a literary term outside the literary medium. <em>The Wire</em>, expanding as it does from a smart cops-and-dealers show in the first season to consider the problems of the working class, local politics, the school system and the press in the later seasons, has a social conscience that Dickens might have had, born into this century instead of his own. Certainly the moment when Bodie, young street dealer moving up in the business, first leaves Baltimore and learns that radio stations are localized, echoes for me as resonantly as &#8220;This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want.&#8221;</p> <p>But perhaps Mr. Tervalon&#8217;s Tolstoy analogy is more apt; I admit, I haven&#8217;t read <em>War and Peace</em>, but the sprawling multi-protagonist nature of <em>The Wire</em> is far from the Pipcentric ways of Dickens. Watching the first few episodes of <em>The Wire</em>, my mind tried to select a protagonist. McNulty is the obvious first candidate, the first main character introduced, and indeed sometimes <a href="">stands out in front in pictures</a> like a lead singer. For the first half of the first episode, the camera switches between Detectives McNulty (later absent for almost an entire season) and Greggs, in the manner we viewers have come to understand designates protagonists. But soon enough we are following a young drug dealer, sitting in on police Majors&#8217; meetings, and watching dope addicts fake ten-dollar bills. This is already a sprawling story, one hour in.</p> <p>As for the cops, our natural tendency is to seek &#8216;clean&#8217; protagonists. When we see a blame-shifting, overloaded departments with Majors who use the n-word, we look for the saving graces, for the <a href="">Lt. Gordons</a> who will make up for the ugliness of the fictional world. McNulty is too driven, too drunk, so we turn to Kima Greggs. I remember this distinctly from my first viewing, my initial investment in Greggs as the &#8216;good cop&#8217;. She&#8217;s responsible, dedicated, smart, kind to confidential informants. I remember at the end of the third episode, when Bodie punched a cop and Carver started beating him with a nightstick while another cop held him. Greggs came running, and I can still remember the way my disappointment mixed with the realization of my own naivet&eacute; as she started kicking the prone teenager.</p> <p>Brutal, isn&#8217;t it? But that&#8217;s when I realized how great this show was. They knew my instinct would be to reject the cops as a whole and cling to one cop as a paragon. I feel pretty sure they set me up for that moment, the realization that this show was going to try to reflect life, the messed-up, imperfect people working within a deeply flawed system. I couldn&#8217;t idolize Kima Greggs. And I couldn&#8217;t reject drunken McNulty, or violent Carver, or career-minded Daniels. I had to understand them instead, accept them all as humans with good points and bad. Cops, criminals, addicts, dockworkers, politicians, teachers, reporters: human and complex. Like they are.</p> <p>The world <em>The Wire</em> shows us is not pretty, but it forces a perspective we are usually able to ignore in our day-to-day lives, pushes us to see all the shades of grey. As Gardner&#8217;s ideal novel does in the quote above, it &#8220;imitates the world in all its complexity.&#8221; And it does it almost entirely in scene, without voiceover or flashback, without using those tools to consistently privilege one characters&#8217; experience and motives over the others&#8217;. This is an omniscient perspective, without the moralizing or unitary reality for which that 19th century trope has been criticized and rejected. So maybe this is a novel. Maybe there are two novels: the form and the idea. But strangely, I think the more we understand what the idea is, the more we can interrogate its attachment to the form. I would by no means cheer the death of the book novel, any more than I would the death of the paper book; but if pushing at the edges of media and definitions creates work like <em>The Wire</em>, what reader could decry that pushing?</p> Top Ten Pointers for Conducting Bad Science 2005-10-31T00:31:33+00:00 2008-08-07T11:18:51+00:00 <p>A first for Faerye Net: the Halloween Special! Pointers on accomplishing Bad Science &mdash; be it evil, ill-advised, or both &mdash; as taught to me by Professor Television and his lovely assistant, Mlle. Cinema. Sharpen your evil pencils and prepare to matriculate.</p> <dl><dt><b>10.</b><dd> Extraterrestrial material always holds the potential to bring humans back from the dead. (But mind the side effects!)<br /><br /> <br /> <dt><b>9.</b> <dd>There are two species of brains in jars: Creepius Stagedressingus, and Speakus Sansvocalcordicus. The latter can sometimes claim to use telepathy. The former just sit there and pickle.<br /><br /> <dt><b>8. </b> <dd>Chambers &mdash; isolation, quarantine, experiment &mdash; are all deathtraps and mutation devices. The wise Bad Scientist will allow only enemies and expendable lab minions to enter.<br /><br /> <dt><b>7.</b> <dd>Bad Scientists are all white or Asian. Only male scientists can be in complete control of Bad Science Laboratories. Female scientists must answer to capitalists or chief scientists. In the latter case, they should try to cultivate a secret love for their brilliant compeer.<br /><br /> <br /> <dt><b>6. </b> <dd>Antidotes to virii and poisons must be kept in a rack or case with the virii and poisons, in matching vials but contrasting colors.<br /><br /> <br /> <dt><b>5. </b><dd><a href="" target="links">Sympathetic magic</a> is an excellent basis for research, and the ultimate explanation for all that goes wrong with that research.<br /><br /> <br /> <dt><b>4. </b> <dd>Experiments on insects should be conducted upon social or swarming species, not on well-established subjects such as fruitflies.<br /><br /> <br /> <dt><b>3. </b> <dd>All clones go wrong. Sooner or later. They all go wrong.<br /><br /> <br /> <dt><b>2.</b> <dd>If you really want your Bad Science to work, it must be some color of green.<br /><br /> <br /> <dt><b>1.</b> <dd>Monkeys in cages. All Bad Science must involve monkeys in cages. In the very best Bad Science Labs, <span class="caps">THE</span> <span class="caps">MONKEYS</span> <span class="caps">ARE</span> <span class="caps">ANGRY</span>.</dl>