50 posts categorized "tv"

February 08, 2013

"Smash," Sexism, and Prejudice

I've been watching the TV show Smash and, although it's really not a big issues show, the latest episode this week -- which features sexual harrassment heavily in the plot -- got me thinking a lot about prejudice.

Smash is a musical drama about a broadway show. Yeah, it's the about the show and everything that goes into making a show, from the creative team coming up with the idea for a musical, through writing it, finding a producer, finding funding, casting, rehearsals, etc.

SPOILERS FOLLOW: The first season got the show -- a bio-musical about Marilyn Monroe called Bombshell -- through its initial run in Boston. Along the way, the two actresses competing for the lead succeed in destroying each others' relationships (and pretty much everything goes wrong for everyone involved as well.)

The director of the show, Derek, initially makes a pass at one of the rivals, the ingenue Karen, during the drawn out casting process. He invites her to a late night audition at his apartment, tells her she needs to be sexier, and then sits on the couch while she gives him what is essentially a lapdance, while "doing" Marilyn. Then she leaves and goes home to her boyfriend. (When the boyfriend finds out about this later, he punches Derek out.)

Then Derek makes a more direct pass at the other rival, the experienced Ivy, and she not only goes for it, but they end up in a serious relationship, where the "L" word gets used.

Throughout most of the season, both characters are up for the role. First one gets chosen, then the other, then a Hollywood actress who can't sing gets cast for a while (and has an affair with Derek while she's doing it, putting a strain on his relationship with Ivy,) then they're both being considered again. Roller coaster. Finally, Derek makes the call and he chooses Karen, i.e. NOT his serious girlfriend.

The second season starts with the reviews coming in and the show getting ready to make its first run on Broadway. But everything is going wrong: the producer is accused of using mob money, the librettist's marriage is falling apart, and ... dunh dunh duuuuuuunnnh ... the Hollywood actress accuses Derek of sexual harrassment.

And this is where things get interesting. In the second episode, apparently emboldened by the Hollywood actress's accusation, six chorus girls from other shows that Derek has done come forward and accuse him of sexual harrassment as well. In many other shows, this would be presented as just another trial of Job to be heaped onto Bombshell, i.e., not something worth exploring for its own sake. And I never would have suspected Smash of having the heart or intelligence to make something more out of this.

But then we get this scene (s2, ep2, starts at 11:20 in the video above) in which Derek seeks out and confronts one of his accusers, a chorus girl named Daisy. He mansplains to her that she doesn't understand the term "sexual harrasment" and says he never touched her. She counters that she never said he did, and then outlines exactly what he DID do, which was hit on her through four callbacks and then refuse to cast her after she definitively turned him down. He insults her talent and says that's why he didn't cast her. Then this:

Derek: Since when is it harrassment to ask someone out on a date?

Daisy: You don't get it. You're a big-shot director. You're in a position of power from the minute you wake up in the morning, and you don't treat that power with respect. Or did you really think women say yes because they actually like you?

Being a decent show and not a great show, Smash goes on to blunt this incredible scene with a cheap musical number ("Would I Lie to You") in which Derek gets pushed around by a bunch of  chorus girls, plus Karen and Ivy, dressed identically:

Although the identically dressed girls could be said to be a comment on Derek's view of women, it looks too much like that's actually the show's viewpoint (and not just Derek's) for that point to come across. It looks too much like this:

So there's that. There's also the rest of the episode, which has Ivy letting a mopey Derek off the hook. But just for a moment, the show's understanding of the world and one of its characters opens up, and you get to see some of the underlying dynamics of this world, and how this fictional world connects to the real one:

  • The Hollywood actress is actually lying. Her sexual relationship with Derek was entirely consensual and welcome, and, in fact, she had the power there, because her star power got her a role that Derek didn't want to give her. In fact, his affair with her was partly intended to boost her confidence so she could sing better, i.e. he was "servicing" her. (Of course he was also just dogging and star-fucking.) Her accusation was made so that she could save face. She quit the show because she couldn't sing, and she wanted to quell the rumors.
  • Even though she nominally has the power, because she's a woman and he's a man, his opinion of her abilities is still important and still has power over her. Note that her attack on him was, in essence, for her to take on the role of victim.
  • This is a common (and largely unwarranted) fear of women: that women will take power over men by falsely accusing them of exercising their power.
  • The show is just good enough that it can't quite make itself depict the Hollywood actress "playing the harrassment card." That whole thing happens offscreen, frankly because we wouldn't believe it if they put it onscreen.
  • Derek is a huge sexual harrasser, although clearly not a sexual assaulter, and his power has prevented anyone from stepping forward before.
  • The Hollywood actress's accusation, although false, is what finally allows Derek's real victims to come forward, because sexual harrassment is entirely about power: who has it and who doesn't. Only the powerful Hollywood actress can make such an accusation without negative repercussions, and the chorus girls require the shelter of her power to do the same.
  • Since the real accusations are enabled by the false one, this lets Derek off the hook in his own mind; the real accusations are just copy-cats of the false one, and equally false.
  • Until Daisy breaks it down for Derek, he genuinely doesn't understand what sexual harrassment is, and genuinely doesn't believe he's doing it. When she says "you didn't really believe all those women liked you?" the look on his face says it all: yes, he did really believe all those women liked him. He really didn't have a clue that it's his power, and not his attractiveness, that makes the women accessible to him. It's equally never occurred to him that his relationships have all been with women who want something that he has the power to give or withhold.

I think it was this last one that really opened something up for me. Yes, it was fiction, but it felt real; rang true, as they say. It was that Derek genuinely believed that he wasn't doing anything wrong that got to me. Because, when it comes to -isms, I always tend to look at things from the oppressed pov, and not from the -ist pov. Or at least to try to.

I understand that privileged white people think that they have a right to a spot in a university that a person of color got "through affirmative action." But I always thought that that was more about the white person thinking that POC can't possibly "deserve" a spot in a university. It had never really gotten through to me that white people think that they DO deserve the spot, have earned it, etc. Although I never thought it through in those terms, I might have thought that, were there no affirmative action, the same white complainer wouldn't complain about not getting into the school of their choice because "their" spot went to another white person. But now I'm wondering if the white complainers wouldn't complain anyway, find other reasons why they were denied their just deserts.

Now, obviously, privilege requires a lack of privilege to be privilege. If there's no lack of privilege, there's no privilege. But privilege is self-referential. It bounces off the Other, but doesn't refer to the Other.

Without the power differential, Derek wouldn't have all these willing chorus girls for his bed. And without all the willing chorus girls, he wouldn't have learned to think so well of his attractiveness. But his view of sexual dynamics is entirely self referential: girls say yes because he's attractive, not because they're afraid to say no. The latter conclusion requires you to refer to the other person, to be aware that the other person has needs and fears and other mechanics. The former conclusion is all about you.

Which leads me to clarifying for myself that prejudice is not just -- and in many cases not even primarily -- prejudice against someone, but rather prejudice for oneself, and by extension, one's own group. This should be obvious, but I've never seen anyone break it down this way (I'm sure others have, I just haven't seen it.) In antiracism we focus so much on the prejudice against, that we never end up talking about the prejudice for. But prejudice for is much more prevalent in the world, simply because the people with the power still control the media, the narrative, and the world's voice.

And this might be why the antiracism/feminist/lgbt/intergenerational/body-positive messages are so often ineffectual: because most people genuinely don't recognize that being prejudiced in favor of you and yours necessarily means that you're prejudiced against others.

That's the end of this thought for now, but I might have more to say about this in the future. Still processing.

October 31, 2010

Why Isn't College Dramatic?

During the summer TV slump, I watched all three seasons of Veronica Mars again. Yes, the first season was great, the second was good, and the third was heeeeeeinous. Still. What puzzled me was why the third season was so bad. I mean there's the fact that they moved to a different network, and that they were forced to cut the stories shorter, so there was no season-long arc. The shorter stories turned the show's premise into schlock: high-concept detective TV. Like Hart to Hart.

But what was really the problem with season three was that the show suddenly focused on (young) adult female sexuality, and it totally went to pieces. (SPOILERS FOLLOW.) In the first two seasons, Veronica was a nerd male fantasy: hot, smart, smart-ass, ass-kickin', and not at all scary with the sexual confidence 'n' stuff. She was a raped virgin. It was okay for white-hat-wearin' girls on this show to be virgins, or at least not sexually active.

But when she gets to college, it would look weird (i.e. non-normative) for her (and everybody else) to not be sexually active. And that's where the fantasy falls apart. Because for a hot chick who's that kickass to be sexually active, she has to be great in bed, too. And then she's suddenly beyond the nerd-boy's reach, not to mention scary. It's a dilemma, because for her to not be good in bed would kill the fantasy as well.

So suddenly the show has all of these weird sexual politics in it. The first story is about a serial campus rapist who shaves his victims' heads, just to make the power dynamic of a rape more visual. (Of course, it was completely ridiculous, b/c instead of actually shaving the actors' heads, they made them wear totally fake-looking fuzz-head wigs.) It's as if (showrunner) Rob Thomas had to balance out Veronica's suddenly active sexuality with a classic punishment for female sexuality.

Then he introduces what is apparently the only on-campus feminist group (at a private college? in California?) protesting the rapes (as if women who weren't outspoken feminists wouldn't be protesting serial rapes too: welcome to the 21st century you creep) who are a bunch of lying, cheating, conniving -- not to mention humorless -- bitches. He actually opposes da feminists to the lampoonists, two nerdy/misogynist guys who write a bad humor mag. As if the third wave of the most successful social justice movement of the last century -- which represents half of humanity, by the way -- was as trifling as a misogynist college humor mag. The "feminists" actually fake one of the rapes to make a point, an incredibly irresponsible thing to do in fiction in a culture that still blames rape victims and tries to scare them away from the very organizations that are there to help them. Gee, Rob, threatened much?

The second long story is a completely noirish story about the murder of a wealthy college dean, and the affair his young, beautiful wife is having with the hot, young professor. The wife isn't even an attempt at realism. Her hair is done forties-style, she dresses forties-style, and she has no personality, besides breathiness and lipstick. We, of course, never get to see her even kissing the hot young prof, although we do get to see him naked in a hotel room with her. (Why do we only get to see men in states of undress in this show? Could it be a fear of female sexuality?) And, of course, the hot-to-trot young wife is a femme fatale: she turns out to be the one who killed her husband and set up her lover to take the fall.

There's another story about a nerdy college boy whose friends hire a prostitute to take his virginity. He falls in love with her and hires Veronica to track her down, but then gets turned off to her when he realizes that her being a stripper and a prostitute isn't just an abstract concept: men are going to remember her and treat her accordingly. The show seems to think his hypocrisy is only natural, and rewards him for dumping his prosty girlfriend by giving him Veronica's best friend as a new girlfriend.

The problem here is clear: the male creator of the show didn't (doesn't?) understand adult female sexuality, and college is -- for people who go to college -- often or usually the place where sexuality blossoms and becomes adult. To write/create effective, realistic stories about girls becoming sexually active women, you have to understand how this happens.

Rape, usually date rape, is far too often a part of this. But the weird roofie-then-shave-head rape of Veronica Mars is most definitely not the usual way campus date rape happens. (Rob Thomas loves the roofie, by the way -- Veronica was roofied and raped in the first episode of the entire series. But far more often, the intoxicant of choice is simple booze.) And even -- or especially -- when rape doesn't happen, consensual sex in college is a very complicated mishmash of negotiation, persuasion, emotional blackmail, self-consciousness, wish-fulfillment, awkwardness, weird body issues, desperation, and, always always, desire. And that's just the women.

Because the cameras cut away the moment the bodies start getting horizontal, the real substance of a sexual liaison between very young adults is also cut away. There's a weird commitment, in this and all other shows, to making all consensual sex satisfying for both parties. (The first time in the series that we see Veronica in the afterglow, she's complimenting her 18-year-old boyfriend Logan on his sexual prowess by saying he could monetize it. That's not problematic at all.) Thus the weird, exciting, awkward, embarrassing, and above all, loooong sexual learning curve we go through throughout our twenties is compressed into a single encounter, and a whole new generation of late teens is subjected to a sexual inferiority complex.

Nobody ever shows a sexual encounter that is just as awkward and unpleasant as it is exciting and pleasurable. Nobody ever shows the young woman's sexual arc getting cut off before climax again and again as she (very slowly) learns to articulate her desires, and her young man partner learns (very slowly) to satisfy her. Instead of a multi-episode story arc in which Veronica complains embarrassedly and irritatedly to Mac that she's not getting off, and she and Mac puzzle over what they want and how to get their boyfriends to do it, instead we get super hot single girls being roofied, raped, and shaved, while Veronica looks unsympathetic and has sweaty orgiastic rock in a penthouse suite with a mysteriously game 18-year-old.

I remember the spring before I graduated, I and my equally 22-year-old friend took a road trip to San Diego to stick our toes in the ocean. We met two boys on the beach, 18 and 16, the elder of whom was trying to school the younger in picking up girls. We had the usual "how old are you?" discussion, which, at 22, was already becoming not so usual anymore. The boy told us "I'm 18, and I fuck like an 18-year-old, too!" My friend and I laughed and tried to convince him that wasn't a good thing. But beneath our overeager superiority and condescension, there was a very immediate realism informed by the four years of college we'd just been through, and the constant sexual disappointment we'd both experienced, plus our fairly recent awakening to the fact that good sex took a lot of work from both parties.

The highschooler was a veteran of sudden gropes and makeout sessions at parties. He hadn't yet gone through the process we'd gone through, which complicated sex and made it much more interesting, but also more confusing. It was an interesting moment, in retrospect, and meant much more than we thought it did at the time.


I could go on, but I think I've made my point about Veronica Mars (which also applies to Buffy): kickass, hot, young, girl-things aren't necessarily evidence of feminism in their male creators.

But all this got me to thinking about why it is that there aren't any compelling dramas about college life. College always ends up being a joke in popular culture. This came up for me a few years ago when I was a devotee of Yahoo! Answers (where people ask questions and anyone can try to answer them. I was there mainly for the book recommendations.) Someone asked for recommendations of novels about college life, and wondered why this didn't seem to be a genre, in the way that YA high school novels were. People had a hard time coming up with titles (as did I.) The only one that anyone could think of was The Secret History. (I also thought of Brideshead Revisited but I don't really consider that a college novel, since the college part was just a prelude to the midlife crisis part.)

I think part of it is that, similar to Rob Thomas and female sexuality in Veronica Mars, people see and understand the difference between adolescence and adulthood, but don't seem to be aware of, or able to articulate, the process of moving from one to the other. Of course, for the half of the U.S. population that doesn't go to college, the transition between high school graduate and working adult is technically immediate. There's no discrete period of years or distinct set experience that is considered the coming of age moment. That's a large part of why college is considered so important: it's a distinct coming-of-age process that set off from the rest of the world -- age segregated -- and that is opaque to anyone who's not in it.

This opacity is bizarre to me. Half of us go through it. Why is it so hard for us to understand what happened? My boss of four years has a daughter who was fifteen when I started working for her and who was nineteen and coming out of her first year of college when I stopped working for her. I remember the girl being very shy and self-conscious and unable to talk to grownups like me in high school. Then she disappeared for nine months and came back from her first year of college smart, confident, firm, and able to look me in the eye, shake my hand, and ask me adult questions about how I was and what I was doing. The transformation was dramatic.

I  remember my freshman year myself. A lot happened, and I came back physically as well as emotionally different. But if I tried right now to narrate the incidents and trends that led me to dress differently, stand up straight, and represent myself with confidence to hundreds of strangers (I canvassed for a PIRG that summer) it would sound trifling and inconsequential. (There was a couple I befriended with a Doberman puppy. There were desperate makeout sessions with a guy friend I wasn't attracted to in a baseball dugout. There was a high-school-best-friend breakup scene long distance on the phone. There were mosh pits and vomit and second-hand clothing stores. There were various physical and emotional transformations happening throughout my family that I was leaving behind. There were certain dreams and desires collapsing, and other ones aborning. Need I go on?)

Why is it that everything that happens in college seems humorous or unimportant, like first world problems? Even when you're talking about the kids who have to work full time during school, or who have to take care of ailing parents, or of their own kids, or deal with illness or disability or abusive relationships, etc. etc. Even then, while the problems aren't inconsequential, somehow they don't seem as serious in narrative as the same problems in teenagerhood or in adulthood.

Maybe it's that the coming of age that happens in college is always triumphal (unless it culminates in someone dropping out.) Graduating from college, in our society, is in effect sealing your membership in the educated classes. Even if you work at McDonald's for the rest of your life, you'll never be less than middle class (whatever that means these days.) And you don't have to work at McDonald's for the rest of your life. This is always viewed as an accomplishment, meritorious, a permanent safe passage.

There's also the fact that college life is protected. High schoolers are protected as well, but they're a part of "real life," being part of families of people "out in the real world" dealing with problems in all classes, races, sectors, neighborhoods. Teens are dramatically transforming people half in and half out of childhood, but part of the totality of society. College, however, even city colleges and community colleges in urban campuses, are still physically and psychologically set off from the rest of the world.

This awareness of the special protectedness of college life and the privilege it confers is probably an enormous part of why, in this supremely class-conscious society, we don't take college drama very seriously. Especially not the people who go through it. There's some sort of merit in acknowledging privilege not by straightforwardly acknowledging it, but by tearing oneself or one's own peers down for being privileged.


I think what I just said above is true, but it doesn't feel like the whole story. Any ideas? Why isn't college fictionally dramatic?

October 30, 2010

Wimmin Leaders in TVland

Ego-googling, I came across this post by Courtney Stoker on Geek Feminism, about why so-called feminist geeks hate women characters on tv.

This tendency to dislike female character reminds me of another ”being one of the guys” strategy: I often meet women who tell me proudly, “I just don’t get along with women.* All of my best friends have been guys.” These women also often think that this fact actually makes them progressive (because nothing’s more radical than failing to create female-centric relationships!). And most of the women I’ve known who say this are geeks. It’s actually one of the reasons it took so long for me to become friends with geeks, because “I don’t get along with women” is dealbreaker for me.

Liz Henry pointed to my post on Voyager in comments and "Burn" responded that:

I watch a lot of crime/procedural shows and there’s frequently a similar dynamic going on with the women bosses. ... A brilliant but non-conformist and risk-taking team leader, some team members, and then the big boss, who represents the government/police/military/whatever hierarchy. Team Leader takes risks, team members are also frequently risk-takers, and the Big Boss warns them not to push the boundaries, but of course the Team Leader goes against orders, and is pretty much always correct in the end. Recently, I’ve seen a lot of women cast as the Big Boss/representative of the Bureaucracy.  Since the narrative sets up the maverick Team Leader as a hero, and the Team Leader is almost always male, it sets up the dynamic of the audience sympathizing with the team rather than the bureaucracy, which places more women (usually middle-aged) into this almost-guaranteed-to-be-unlikeable role of the fun-killer.

I've actually responded viscerally to this without noticing it consciously before, so I'm glad Burn pointed it out. This may be part of the reason I don't enjoy most police procedurals. But I have been watching some recent woman-centered procedurals and they, more than sf shows, have been pioneering strong, interesting, middle-aged women leads.

I'm thinking about Saving Grace (which just ended its run recently,) The Closer, and In Plain Sight. All three of these shows posit strong, troubled, often obnoxious women cops (in In Plain Sight she's a U.S. Marshal) who are advanced enough in their field to work independently or be team leaders, without being the "big boss." All of them are unconventional risk-takers, all have alienated the establishment in their field and gotten themselves into trouble, and all have found a place where they can be accepted by finding male allies -- both superiors and equals -- partly through their sexual appeal, and partly by finding men who are as unconventional and troubled as themselves.

All three are also very strongly emotional, and are impelled by their empathy with the victims they work with. However, they all distort their emotional responses, subsuming their emotions in their work, acting out in small tics and rituals (in The Closer it's her compulsive sweets-eating,) taking their troubles out on their (unrealistically) understanding lovers, and only showing their vulnerability at special moments, often only to crime victims. All of them are dealing with serious histories with male authority figures: father abandonment, priest sexual abuse, a series of bad relationships.

I love all of these characters, and even compared Grace in Saving Grace to Starbuck in the new Battlestar Galactica, and called it a new archetype, the "Starbuck". I think Mary from In Plain Sight might be a "Starbuck" too, but there are arguments against it. For one, she and her younger sister and her mother, all three share the damage, so elements of the Starbuck archetype are divided among the three of them. Mary doesn't really have Starbuck's (or Grace Hanadarko's) charm, but her mother and sister do have it, without having the strength or kickassness. I don't think Brenda Leigh Johnson is a Starbuck at all, either. She might be more interesting, since she uses "feminine weakness" to compromise others.

I'm a character addict, in television and written fiction. I can enjoy a fiction with a good story and flat characters, but it doesn't stick with me. What makes something strong and abiding for me in fiction is strong characters. And I think what's really important about the way that women are portrayed in these shows isn't that the women are leads, or that they're strong and capable and kickass. It's rather that they're very particular characters, very individual and flawed and interesting.

Creating a new archetype isn't the same as  creating a new stereotype. Archetypes are more about place-holding in our imagination. They tell us that the individual we're seeing isn't anomaly, but rather is one individual among many in a similar situation, who has similar responses to that situation. Drawing a character from an archetype, or creating a new archetype, doesn't mean that your characters will become flat. Only if you flatten the character yourself will it become a stereotype. And what's happening with this new type of approaching-middle-age or middle-aged independent woman is that the shows are using them as maquettes to build very individual characters upon. Let's hope it lasts.


One more quick note: I think it's important to note that all three are blonde (as was Starbuck) and all bottle-blondes (including Starbuck.) There's something basic here about American beauty standards: I think presenting a non-blonde female lead in itself is fighting a small fight, and offering a sole female lead in a woman-centered fiction is probably enough fight for one show. I think the female leads have to be blonde. Look at the other female leads in woman-centered shows: Meredith Grey, Nurse Jackie, Hellcats, Secret Diary of a Call Girl, United States of Tara, the new one The Big C, etc. I think there are a few with brunettes, like Weeds, but not many. The ones that aren't (Cougartown, 30 Rock) are mainly comedies.

It's particularly interesting, about the bottle-blonde, because at least one of these isn't entirely white: Grace Hanadarko of Saving Grace is part ... you guessed it ... American Indian, although it's Choctaw (or Caddo?) in her case, not Cherokee. I haven't quite decided what to make of that yet; I'm trying to hold back sour commentary on the white American desire for mystical Indian ancestors to justify their existence here and wipe them clean of the racial sin of racism. But I ain't gonna go there.

January 11, 2010

Has Chuck Jumped the Shark?

I'm worried that "Chuck" has jumped it. At the end of last season, the Intersect 2.0 downloaded kung fu and other spy skillz into Chuck's brain. This clearly threw off the balance of the show, in which Sarah had all the spy skillz and looked good and always saved Chuck's ass, and Chuck had the brain, and came up with last minute clever solutions as well as having all the intel. It worked.

Now that it seemed Chuck wouldn't need Sarah to save him anymore, the whole balance would be thrown off. So instead, they made him "more emotional" so that his emotions would get in the way of the Intersect working. In practice, this means that his personality, always right on the edge of whiny, goes right over the cliff into fully annoying. Whereas before he would almost mess up and then pull it out when things got tough, in the first two episodes of the new season, he keeps fucking up by injecting his emotions into the situation at the most inappropriate times. It's not funny. It's annoying. And it's inconsistent with his character.

I could barely make it through those two episodes. I'll keep watching, but they're going to have to come up with a better way to keep balance. They want to have their cake (Chuck gets to kick ass) and eat it too (but he still stays nerdy.) But the point of that proverb, or whatever it is, is that you can't have both.

Also, Zachary Levi looks as insanely toothy and handsome as ever in interviews, but he doesn't look that great on the show. Is it the cheezy smile he keeps displaying? Bring the handsome, helpless nerd back!

December 07, 2009

Bad Daddies and Fighting Alpha Males

Is what Lost is all about.

Jack's Dad was a controlling alcoholic

Kate's real Dad was an abusive fuck and her enabling mother chose him over her.

Hurley's Dad left.

Sun's Dad was a violent mafia leader.

Jin's Dad was weak and poor.

Sayid's Dad pushed him into violence, but really, Sayid's bad Daddy was Saddam Hussein: he was pushed into violence through his stint with the Republican Guard.

John's Dad was the ultimate asshole: a con artist who stole his kidney and then threw him out a window.

Sawyer's Dad killed his Mom and then himself, but really, Sawyer's bad Daddy was the con artist who caused it all.

Ben's Dad beat him.

Miles' Dad (he thought) kicked him and his Mom out when he was a baby, and never reappeared.

Dan's Dad is the ultimate bad guy, whom he never knew.

There are more bad parents in the earlier seasons, even some bad Mommies, but by season five, all we see are bad Daddies. All parents in season five abandon their kids and go back to the Island to reckon with their bad Daddies in some way. And now, we have even more fighting alpha males than in any previous seasons:






The crazy, violent scientist dude from the Dharma Initiative whose name I can't remember

Charles Widmore




and frankly, I'm getting tired of it.


Oh, okay, I just watched the episode where they SPOILER detonated the nukular bomb and killed Jacob. It's the Adam/Eve/Cain/Abel story! Duh! I guess it took me five seasons to get on board with that, plus getting clubbed over the head with it.

November 25, 2009


Clearly, I have to start watching this show.

November 16, 2009

The New "Life's Too Short" Rule of Consumption

It used to be that saying "Life's too short" about giving up on a book or a movie was a very serious accusation of suckitude. The lesser insult was "I have better things to do."

But now I'm about halfway through my expected life span as an American. I've noticed recently, with books, movies, and even TV, that I'll give up on things much more easily, with the thought that I don't have all the time in the world to read (or watch) crap, and I still haven't read Moby Dick (or seen The Bicycle Thief) or whatever, so I shouldn't waste my time on this. I think it's a function of mid-life crisis.

It's also a real consideration, though. I'm genuinely starting to feel how limited time is and how crappiness is a terrible thing to waste my mind on. But I'm still working on the idea that I should finish every book I start, and still working with the sensation of failure when I don't.

Right now I'm trying to get through William Gibson's Virtual Light, which I picked up because it mentions Thomassons in it. Every time I pick it up, I'm reminded that: a) I still haven't read Neuromancer, b) I'm not all that interested in Gibson or cyberpunk, but really should read at least that one seminal text before I kick the bucket, and c) I'm not really into this book, but feel I should finish it since it's not at all a bad book.

So I think the new rule should be: since I'm going to spend this time reading anyway, but I'm never going to get this reading time back, should I really be reading THIS? Or more precisely, at the end of my life, if I were granted the power to remember every book I had read, would I regret wasting my time on this?

I think the answers are no and yes. So I'm kicking this book to the curb and instituting this as a rule.

October 25, 2009

Lost in Battlestargate: Voyager

So, I've gotten addicted to the new Stargate: Universe series, and, just as quickly, started losing interest in it.

It steals storytelling and camera styles from the BSG playbook. Don't mind that. But there's no actual characterization involved. The much-touted lesbian Ming Na character didn't actually turn up a single characteristic until episode five. Her personality point? Craven manipulativeness. Ah so, Madame Ming Na!

Also, the black character is an out of control, violent brute who first shows up imprisoned, emphasis on "prison". But With A Heart Of Gold Of Course! And the high-status white girl? A slut. A slut who sleeps with one man while using another (the requisite Seth-Rogan-a-like Mary Sue geek.) The other two white women? A hot blonde whose hair never gets out of place, and tough cookie with huge bazoombas, who is first seen fucking the same guy the high-status slut later fucks. Oh and that guy? He's the honorable, young, white lieutenant we all love. Plus, this universe is full of wives who stay at home and reject their honorable, white husbands, or are too dependent on their honorable white husbands so that they fall apart when they die, or who die themselves, driving their formerly honorable, genius, white husbands mad (potentially.) But what else would a woman do? Unless she's a dyke, of course, or a slut?

Also: the good colonel is a white guy and teh bad colonel is Lou Diamond Phillips.

The good news: an early conversation between the hot blonde and Ming Na puts the Bechdel Save on this series. Unless it's just a setup for them to have hot lezbo secks. The bad news: see above.

Plus, did I mention? No characterization. We have a volatile genius scientist guy who may be manipulating everyone and everything and may have put them all out in space in the first place (Dr. Longhair, I know Gaius Baltar, and you, sir, are no Gaius Baltar.) We have an honorable, white captain leader type. (Sir, I know Captain Picard and you are no Captain Picard.) We have the honorable lieutenant (see above), we have the supposed hottie all the guys are starting to want (the not-so-hot and very annoying Senator's daughter, but high-status!), we have the dykey, cowardly, Asian bureaucrat, we have the scary, violent black soldier, we have the potentially dykey hot blonde medic (Ma'am, I know Izzy Stevens and you are no Izzy Stevens), we have a bunch of ineffectual, white, male geeks (Sirs, I know Joss Whedon, and you are no Joss Whedon. Whedons), and ... uh ... yeah.

Characters? We don't need no stinkin' characters!

Is it sad that this is my best SF of the season?

October 01, 2009


September 25, 2009

TV Bad

Modern Family
The Forgotten

Yeah, okay, I tried to watch some new show pilots last night. Couldn't get through the first two. Modern Family (new half-hour sitcom about three families) got some good reviews, but I don't find it funny when writers/producers simply humiliate characters in a scene. That makes me squirm. There has to be something more than just humiliation in there. Too many people are hung up on The Office and think that making an audience really uncomfortable is all you need to do to be good. Ugh.

Mercy (trauma nurse hospital drama) was just bad. Bad acting, bad writing, bad conceptualization, bad stereotypes. Dumb. And extra bad points for gratuitous, exploitive use of Iraq. Didn't stay for the whole thing.

The Forgotten
(ex-cop leads a volunteer group seeking the identities of John and Jane Does once their cases have gone cold) was watchable. That one I got through. It's Jerry Bruckheimer, and it shows. High concept cop procedural, basically. Even if the writing and acting are bad (and they are), there's still the mystery to pull you through. I might watch again if there's nothing else on, but I won't seek it out.

I totally avoided Cougar Town, which has gotten some bad reviews anyway, because I just don't like being marketed to in that egregious way. I'm not on The Schedule as it is, and being told who I'm supposed to be at my age (apparently a divorced mother of 2 who wears skirts and heels and fucks young men) makes me itch. So instead I went to the other women-of-a-certain-age wish-fulfillment vehicle: Eastwick. Fun! There's a cougar in this one, too, only they just call her a "slut." Plus a Miss Moneypenny and a doormat housewife. The Slut turns out to be clairvoyant, the Miss Moneypenny to be a hypnotic vamp, and the housewife is, OF COURSE, an earth goddess.

But how can you say no to witches? I love witches! I love the (literal) female empowerment that's inherent and inevitable in a witch-centered story. I hate to admit it, but Practical Magic is still one of my favorite movies (and yes, I know it's the Sarah McLachlan of movies.) No matter how cheesily you approach it, if you're making witches your protagonists, they will be women, and they will be active agents of their own destiny. You can't have a passive witch. (oo! plot of novel #10: the passive witch! Watch her sit in her La-Z-Boy! See her make cookies and daydream! It'll be a best seller!)

Anyway, Eastwick is supremely cheesy, but I'm loving it already and have subscribed to it on Hulu. One outta five ain't bad.

August 21, 2009

Geek Post: Why Voyager Rocked

Over at Tempest's blog, she asks why people really disliked Captains Sisko and Janeway. (If you don't know why this is a loaded question, don't bother reading this post, because it means you don't know shiz about Star Trek.)

I started to respond in a comment, but then it got really long, so I thought I'd just take it over here.

Voyager was a groundbreaking show. The first half of the show's run was shaky, but once 7 of 9 stepped in, the show became truly groundbreaking. In the 7 of 9 era, the characters and roles were slightly reshuffled, until the ship was led by a triumvirate of strong women. In fact, the ship, and the show, were led by the three archetypes of crone, mother, and virgin (that's Janeway, Torres, and 7 of 9 to you.) It took a little while for these roles to shake out, but watching them develop was thrilling. And watching how Voyager took these three archetypes and thoroughly subverted them, was even more thrilling.

Janeway started out as a shaky and boring character for one simple reason: we have archetypes of male leaders of all ages, but we don't have valid archetypes of early-middle-aged female good leaders. Think about it: there are the bad mommies (Medea) and evil witches galore (Circe, wic witch of west), there are the insane women-of-a-certain-age (neither good nor bad), and there are the various monsters (harpies, sirens, Medusa, oh my!), and there are the magical wimmins, like sphinxes and such, who help heroes to something, but exact a price. There are no heroines, no protagonist archetypes, who are early-middle-aged women.

And let's face it: Star Trek's bread and butter has always been Western archetypes.

So Janeway got off to a shaky start, since she had no archetype to embody. After a great deal of silly romantic trouble, and a genuinely touching reckoning with her relationship with Chakotay, she finally settled into her role as, not the captain of the ship, but the mother of all mankind. Yes, it took them about three seasons to realize that, out in the Delta Quadrant, Voyager was a microcosm of all humankind and Janeway was the crone queen. They picked up on this when they opposed her to the Borg queen and discovered that they were equals. The good mommy of diversity, and the bad mommy of assimilation.

What was brilliant about the way they wrote her character was that they then used her position of power to question the way leaders in hierarchies make decisions. She didn't always make the right one, but, while always acknowledging that, the show didn't look down on her for it. Her wisdom was always greater than everyone else's, but her wisdom wasn't always right. They used the Borg queen and 7 of 9 to underline this lesson, comparing the hierarchy that may be necessary among diverse individuals, with the consensus that is possible among the thoroughly assimilated. Hierarchy and diversity were not always shown to be the best choice.

Torres started out as the fiery hottie, the amazon, which is why her character didn't work so well: it's hard to have a fiery hottie who's also a brilliant leader. Amazons are forces of nature, tamed by the love of a hero stronger than themselves. By "taming" her fieriness a bit with marriage and a child, they slotted her into the archetype of mother. However, the man she married wasn't the hero stronger than herself, but the reformed weasel. So she got to remain a leader. This ended up being the perfect platform to talk about a young woman growing into a position of leadership. It subverted, whether intentionally or un-, both the archetypes of mother and of amazon.

And Seven subverted the virgin archetype thoroughly. Raped (in the sense of being abducted) and thoroughly physically violated at the age of 6, Seven as an adult retains a childlike innocence, coupled with some seriously dangerous hardware. And by hardware, I don't mean the kind of asskicking karate-hardware that is the substance of millenial male fantasies from Buffy to whatever happened in the action film genre yesterday. By hardware I mean smarts: brain enhancements, databases, skills, abilities. She also has a fading sense of certainty about herself and her place in the universe that is the legacy of her Borg upbringing. This Borg confidence is depicted as one of the good leftovers of her background; the show doesn't assume that everything she learned as a Borg is bad or wrong except her military capabilities, as a more salacious show would do. And there's some very sophisticated discussion of her Borg spirituality (yes, they have some) and her Borg worldview.

This bumps into the fact that Voyager dealt with multiraciality and transnationality in a much more sophisticated way than all the previous (and subsequent) Treks. Although Torres is largely treated as a tragic mulatta, and her two species viewed reductively, note that her human half is Latina, itself a multiracial identity. Although the two episodes in the series that deal directly with her multiraciality are stupid (there's an early episode where she splits into her Klingon and human halves, and her Klingon half can't think, while her human half can't fight -- not offensive at all!; and a much later one in which she's pregnant and goes crazy trying to make sure her daughter doesn't end up with Klingon brow ridges), the rest of the show, when not focusing on what they think she should be doing with her multiraciality, deals with it rather delicately: showing how she extracts strength and trouble, questions and confirms herself, both, through her cultural uses and memories of her parents.

Seven, on the other hand, is a transracial adoptee, a third culture kid, and a multiracial (since she carries marks of both races on her face and body.) Like I said above, Voyager, unlike TNG, doesn't assume that a Borg separated from the collective is better off. We see Seven having a lot of trouble adjusting, and learn slowly that part of her successful adjustment is owing to the confidence and centeredness she found as a Borg. In one episode, she says that her memories and experience as a child and as a Borg remain with the collective, and it comforts her to know that she will be immortal in that way. Nobody else on board has that kind of certainty of an afterlife. The show's treatment of Seven is an example of true diversity: Janeway sometimes finds Seven's ideas and decisions abhorrent, but she tolerates them and learns to live with them.

I find it strange that people are so hostile to Seven. She was brought in to replace the ingenue character of Kes, who never quite worked out. Kes was both the virgin/ingenue, and the sexual/romantic partner of an old-looking and seeming character (Neelix.) That never worked out, for obvious reasons. And when they started giving her superpowers, it wasn't believable -- or desirable -- because she'd spent the previous three years being annoyingly perky and powerless. Seven was very carefully thought out to replace her: Seven was a virgin/ingenue, but with built-in strength and power. She was the opposite of perky, and was clearly on a coming-of-age trajectory. When Seven got with Chakotay, it was clearly the next phase in her evolution: she wasn't going to be expected to get it on and remain virginal, like Kes was.

I truly think that people who think Voyager was a bad show either didn't watch the second half of the run (most likely) or haven't yet become comfortable with the idea of women in leadership positions. Even the somewhat groundbreaking Battlestar Galactica, which started out with women in leadership positions in civilian and spiritual life, couldn't quite bring itself to depict a good woman military leader. That's pretty radical.

Also, Voyager depicts three strong male characters who choose to take supportive roles vis-a-vis women. Chakotay is a strong character in more than one sense: he takes his own path, he's a military leader and also a leader in personality, and he straddles the military and rebel worlds without breaking apart or going crazy. Chakotay, halfway through the show, in the episode in which he and Janeway confront their romantic feelings for each other, lays it out: he's accepted the role of helpmeet, of the man who enables the woman leader. It's completely awesome. Later, he becomes Seven's lover, and it's clear that he's an older teacher-type lover, a kind of Kris Kristofferson to Seven's Barbara Streisand.

Tom Paris is a stereotype, not an archetype: he's an immature wild-boy, who's the best pilot in the whatever, but is traumatized by the consequences of his own cowardice and immaturity. He eventually grows up enough to atone for his past wrongdoings and Become A Man, but he doesn't have the personality of a leader. Instead he falls in love with Torres, who is a leader, and takes on the implicit role of a woman leader's partner. And then there's Tuvok, who has a wife and kid at home, and is smarter, older, more controlled, and better educated than everyone else on board. And he makes himself Janeway's instrument because he recognizes the power of her leadership, and because he believes that it's the right thing to do.

(And one more thing: the Doctor plays the vain, fussy, diva character. The male Doctor. Think people might have a problem with that?)

The strong and satisfied male helpmeets are probably the bitterest pill for Voyager-haters to swallow, even though no one has mentioned it. In fact, no one ever mentions the male characters on the show at all, not to love or to vilify them. I think it's the absence, the lack of male leadership that causes people to clock Voyager as "boring," or "silly." I used to watch queer films and think they were boring, until I read somewhere that this is a privileged response: most of the films I watch show heteronormative sexuality, which is more interesting to me in the titillating sense, so I don't have to have any interest in other types of sexuality. But (cue violin music) once I got with the program and stopping making every narrative have to be about ME, I found a whole world of narratives out there about people nothing like me with concerns nothing like mine that were not just interesting, but amazing. Including queer narratives. (Here's one among many, by the way, and you can watch it free on the web.)

Which is all by way of saying that Voyager was definitely uneven. And I don't hold it against people for misjudging the show based on the first few seasons. But ultimately, Voyager was one of the groundbreaking shows of the ages, and definitely the most groundbreaking Trek since the original series.

So there.

July 17, 2009

Confirmation Hearing

Hulu is running this clip from an earlier Senate confirmation hearing. It is waaaay too cool, on so many levels. Same players, different tune.

April 13, 2009

Weekly Roundup: April 5 - 11

Okay, I'm calling it: Life has jumped the shark. Suddenly, everything's been about Charlie? The whole thing has been about getting Charlie into whatever their organization is? Please. Oh, and also, now he and Danny are oogly over each other? Because she was in danger? There's nothing like a damsel in distress, right? Am I right? And he's the perfect ... cop, gangster, guy, whatever? You can't hold him cuz he can kill you with a karate chop to the throat? Too bad none of the rest of those fools who do time have learned that jailhouse trick. Argh. Stupid show.

Food poisoning this week. That was fun. Sad thing was, I was so doped up from illness that I actually got two good nights' sleep.

Then I went in for a sleep study. Very weird sleeping in a hotel room with about fifty wires glued to my skull and chest and four down my pant legs, plus elastics around my chest and waist. Very creepy. But maybe I'll get to sleep right now. Here's hoping.

Got through another season of The Wire. Now I'm just waiting for season five to show up in my mailbox. Omar is definitely still my favorite character.

Posted about Koreatowns on atlas(t). So I live in Oakland Koreatown now. Whatever.

Two birthday parties this weekend. Fun.

I'm reading Proust Was a Neuroscientist, a birthday gift from Pireeni. I'm not throwing it across the room so much as writing "dumbass!" in it frequently. The dude is a good popular science writer but he doesn't seem to understand how novels work at all. Will have more to say about it when I finish the book.

Went for a walk in the Oakland hills this weekend with Jaime. Very beautiful in springtime. Didn't know there were so many colors of green. But part of one path was along a very steep cliff and had a near panic attack. Funny moment during the worst part when we had turned back and I was talking myself through it: "It's okay, you can do it. It's not a problem. It's okay. You can do it ..." and then a dude came barreling towards us on a mountain bike and I almost lost it. Weird that it was bad when the cliff was on my left side, but when we turned around to come back and the cliff was on my right side it was much, much worse.

I'm putting together a carnival of 300-word Asian American immigrant stories for API Heritage Month on Hyphen blog. This is also to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the publication of The Joy Luck Club. The idea is to get non-Joy-Lucky immigrant stories. Here's the link.

Also, the Carl Brandon Society's API Heritage Month book list will be the same as last year's. Here's that link.

And posted a review-ish piece on the current 21 Grand show on KQED. Here's the link.

April 07, 2009

The Gross-out Dolls

Okay, I've been pretty ambivalent about the TV show Dollhouse, which, if you're unaware of it, is a Joss Whedon show about people whose memories are wiped so they can be reprogrammed as any type of character to help rich clients play out their fantasies. Gross, right?

I'm ambivalent because, although the show gives plenty of French-maid-lace-thigh-highs-my-perfect-girl moments, it DOES seem to be tending towards some sort of complexity about personality, memory, and ownership of self. Tending, I said, not actually building.

But then I was watching last week's episode on Hulu and this commercial for Target came on (see vid above and pay attention to the lyrics) and I'm so completely grossed out by it that I'm not sure I can watch the show anymore. The commercial was clearly designed specifically for the show, and has no faux-redeeming irony or humor in it at all.


Also, the show isn't getting any better. Sierra, the fine-boned Asian chick, keeps getting more and more victimized. First she's raped by her handler -- who is then executed by hand for his crime, because delicate-boned Asian chicks are so precious and helpless that we need to commit extreme violence on the men who rape them -- then it turns out she was brought into the dollhouse by a guy she wouldn't sleep with, who has since had her every which way to Sunday.

Gorsh, this show is awful empowering! Ugh! I'm just grossed out right now.

There's been this real "true crime" style undercurrent of salaciousness to all of the evils the show is committing on the women characters. There's lots of frowning and moralizing around the women, even as the show depicts at least one over-the-top sexy outfit per episode. They just can't stop raping Sierra, and then wagging their fingers about it, or playing sad music every time Echo is wiped and wanders around looking blank ... and with her mouth slightly open in the primate signal for sexual availability ... remarkably like a supermodel in a Prada shoot.

And in the meantime, no one's bothering their godless heads over the men's loss of power and self ... in fact, the men are even made fun of: one episode revolves around Victor's crush on Sierra and how they have to track its progress by watching for his boners in the shower.

To summarize: women powerless and sexually available = delicious and sad ... and wrong! Men powerless and, er, available fer whatever = ridiculous and funny. Oh, and the one active that has escaped? A dude. Named "Alpha." Who's extremely violent.

Ugh. This show is just gross. I think I'm done watching.

April 05, 2009

Weekly Roundup: March 29 - April 4

My folks were in town for a while but left this week. And I've been having trouble getting to sleep, which is making me tired and bad-memoried.

I had to scramble to finish my Asian American women profiles for Hyphen blog this week, before Women's History Month was over. It was a good project, but a lot of work. I asked the readers for suggestions, and most of the suggestions were for artists and writers, which tells you what kind of readers we have, but wasn't terribly helpful. So I had to curate the profiles for age, ethnicity, and field of endeavor. That also meant I had to do some research to actually find a range of women to profile. But I'm glad of the result. You can see all the posts here.

By the way, I'm going to be asking Asian Americans to send in 200-word family histories for me to post on Hyphen Blog for May, which is API Heritage Month. Spread the word!

Also, currently working for Kaya Press and putting together book tours for Australian novelist Brian Castro and Japanese documentary filmmaker Kazuo Hara. We've been watching Hara's films lately, and I have to say, although I would never have sat through one otherwise, I'm glad I was forced to: this guy's a genius. For writers out there, you HAVE to see A Dedicated Life (which you can get on Netflix). It's a documentary about a Japanese novelist, famous for one particular book, who used to be a member of the Japanese communist party and was excommunicated for kicking off his novel writing career by writing a book criticizing it. But that's not what the film is about. The film, an amazing 2.5 hours long, is about narrative and how people build their lives. That's all I can tell you, because it's the kind of film that does what only film can do ... so you can describe it. Watch the film and if your jaw isn't on the ground after the first half hour, and STILL on the ground two hours later, I'll buy you dinner.

I didn't really like his Goodbye CP, which I think was his first film, and which is basically about forcing the audience to watch endless footage of people with cerebral palsy moving through public space and being ignored by others. But definitely see The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On, which is about a super-crazy protester in the 80's who tries to kill his former WWII commander for reasons best understood by watching the film.

Katherine Mieszkowski, probably my favorite writer at Salon, has an article about a couple in Berkeley who acquire most of their stuff by scavenging. It's really interesting and has some tips for down 'n' out East Bay Areans. The irony here is that this couple has written a book about scavenging, which you have to buy new, because presumably most people who buy it aren't going to toss it out.

My friend Jaime said last weekend, after the funeral of the four Oakland policemen, that he thinks a city can reach a point where its reputation is just broken, and there's no coming back. I've been watching The Wire on netflix these past few weeks, and Oakland feels like that right now: broken beyond repair. The anger that Oscar Grant's killing unleashed was one side of the violence coin -- and the police DO have a lot to answer for, over the years and right now. But these killings are the other side, an indication that when violence gets this out of control, no one is safe. The one thing everyone can agree on is that Mayor Dellums is an asshole. The feeling in Oakland right now is sadness just on the edge of despair; there's no real anger, just shock. And the violence continues.

I saw the William Kentridge show at SFMOMA last weekend and highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend it. Don't wanna talk about it right now, though. Also saw the Nick Cave show at YBCA. Candylicious!

And I've started revisions on Draft 3 of da nobble. And started writing dates with other writers. If this works out, I might have a way of sticking to it. I have to get this sleep issue resolved, though, because I don't have much brain power this week.

Saw Amber Benson, who played Tara on Buffy, on BART last weekend. At first I thought she was someone I knew down the way, so familiar did she seem. I stared a little, but tried not to bother. She was with a group of geek girls, which is cool.

Been watching the first season of 21 Jump Street on Y*O*U*T*U*B*E. Yeah, it's cheesy (the music is truly horrible), but the storytelling is actually pretty decent. I remember LOVING this show back in the day: it started the year I went off to college. I was still seventeen when I first went: still a teenager in a lot of ways. So I watched it off and on until Johnny Depp left. The gender and racial dynamics are so clear in this show, it makes me understand the 80's much better. Holly Robinson's character is the only woman on the force (there are no female extras in uniform). She's depicted as being just as capable as the men ... but she never has to fight anyone. Whenever there's a shooting or an accident that she's involved in, all the men get this look of concern on their faces and touch her shoulder and ask if she's alright. God, I remember that.

As far as the racial dynamic goes, the only black characters on the show so far are bad guys, except for Robinson and the captain. There's even one episode where a rich white kid gets hooked on smack and is forced by his black dealer, also a teenager, to rob stores to pay for his dope. The black dealer gets put away and the white junkie gets off scot free with no explanation. Everyone feels sorry for him. And yet, there's some sophistication in the way the individual characters interact racially. In the pilot, Johnny Depp's character is surprised that Holly Robinson's character owns an MG. She laughs at him and asks him if she should have a pimpmobile instead. No pretty-boy cop-show hero nowadays would ever be allowed to make racist assumptions like that.

Pireeni gave me Proust Was A Neuroscientist for my birthday (very belatedly) and I've started reading it.

Will do a sleep study next week.

That is all.

March 27, 2009

TV Nosh and Bechdel Natter

Everybody's talking 'bout BSG and I still haven't seen it yet! Rrrrrr. Stupid Scifi network.

On the bright side, "Chuck" is starting to get good. I was worried that we were in for another season of "I love Sarah, but I can't have her, but I love her, but I can't have her ..." But now it looks like he's going to be investigating on his own. Kewl. On the down side, "Chuck" STILL hasn't passed the Bechdel test, and that's annoying. There are four awesome women in the show -- a spy, a doctor, a computer geek, and a general -- and none of them have anything better to do than to worry about the men in their lives. Even the general only ever worries about Chuck. And while the men have real moral dilemmas, the women only have to choose between men. Argh.

I'm also in season 3 of "The Wire" and totally addicted. I'm a little worried that the only way they know how to play Kima, a married-with-kid lesbian, is to make her a man with tits. In the first season she got shot and everyone was all over themselves about it, solely because she was a woman. Argh. Plus, we don't get to see any female friendships or close relationships on the show, except for Kima's brokedown marriage, and that, as I said, is merely a coded het marriage. So it's riding the line for me right now. We'll see.

The new show, "Kings," while interesting for now, looks like more of the same on the Bechdel front. Hell, it's called "Kings."

And I'm NOT watching "Lost" or "Heroes." So there.

I really wish ABC would either get on Hulu or get a better player. Their player has never worked for me. But I guess it's all to the good, since it means less TV I'm watching.

March 22, 2009

BSG Finale. Yawn.

Talk about no bang and not much whimpering.

Apparently BSG is finale-ing, (today? tomorrow? I don't know) and I don't even care. I'm behind two episodes as it is, and I'm certainly not going to watch it at the time of broadcast. No spoilers, please, even though I don't care. I'm going out on a limb though: it's gonna suck.

In other news, I'm writing again. I had a good writing day today. If this keeps up, I won't be blogging much. But then, I've been so busy the past month, I haven't been blogging much, anyway. So let it be for a good reason I'm not blogging.

That is all.

February 14, 2009

BSG Natter (with spoilers)

Good episode tonight. I love Ellen and always have. Not cool to turn Anders into a vegetable, but there was some good material in there.

But, so help me oG, if they reveal that Starbuck used to be Daniel and "John" just messed with her DNA to turn him into a her, I'm gonna kill somebody.

February 11, 2009

Crap TV

I just watched the premiere of "XIII," which kinda sucks. It sucks all the more because it doesn't REALLY suck, it just kinda sucks, which means I could get drawn into watching it again if there's nothing else on.

It's three parts Bourne trilogy, two parts "24," and one part "oh, we have a liberal administration and legislature now, we can't be on the side of the torturers anymore." A dude wakes up with some bullet wounds and doesn't remember who he is. But he can kill people with his little finger. Blah blah. Then he finds out that he's the prime suspect in the assassination of the country's first female president. The two-hour pilot basically told us everything except who was behind the assassination. I'm pretty sure I don't want to get involved in all the twists and turns and machinations that'll get us to that answer.

But: what else to watch? I can't watch "Lost" or "Ugly Betty" because the ABC player sucks and they're not on Hulu. I can't watch "Heroes" 'cause I didn't bother to watch the beginning of the season and I'm not going to pick it up now. And there are at least two episodes of BSG sitting around waiting for me, but I can't bring myself to watch them, the show has been so bad.

I just saw season two of "Dexter" and it was awesome ... except that the second season didn't pass the Bechdel test. Why? The first season passed it, not easily, but naturally. Deb's career was an issue that she debated with LaGuerda. This season it's all about the men that done them wrong and women's fragility or evil bitchiness. Deb and Rita the Captain are fragile, Rita's mom and Lila are evil witches, and LaGuerda -- easily the kickassinest woman character on the show, is alternately fragile and bitchy. I will definitely watch season three, but on sufferance, ya know?

I think it's notable, by the way, that the top rated and most highly praised one-hour dramas in the past decade ALL pass the Bechdel test: Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, Heroes, Lost, etc. Don't you?

ETA: okay I just went and watched the two episodes of BSG I hadn't seen. ARGH! (spoilers follow)

I got all excited because we finally had some action, after all that wallowing and suicide and shit. But the action was stupid! It was just these people going here and those people going there, and then everybody going elsewhere, and Adama sacrificing himself for NO REASON, and Roslyn getting all hysterical over HER MAN, and we don't even know what happened to Anders.

It could have been so good. Two seasons ago, it WOULD have been so good. We wouldn't have gone from taking over a ship to SHOOTING THE ENTIRE QUORUM OF TWELVE IN COLD BLOOD with no escalation in between and then shrugging of the shoulders and saying "that's what happens in a coup." If this had been drawn out over three episodes, or at least done well, we could have followed Gaeta's POV the whole time and gotten on board with him and been pulled slowly over to the dark side as he was.

But as it is, I still have NO IDEA what sent Gaeta over the edge, NO IDEA why he has it in for Adama. And the fleetwide agonizing over How Much We Hate The Toasters TM has NOT BEEN WORKED OVER. We just haven't seen it. So to have all these people suddenly rise up all haterish doesn't make emotional sense. And the beauty of Tom Zarek was that he was a nemesis who was POLITICALLY KORREKT. That is, we knew he was in it for personal power, but his politics were always right, he always had a good point, and he had a conscience in his Machiavellian soul. It was impossible to like him or trust him, but impossible to condemn him as well. So to have him just jump over to the evil side all of a sudden was ... cheap. And lazy.

But this whole show has gotten lazy. Lazy lazy lazy. Sigh.

But I'm excited about the premiere of "Dollhouse." It better be good.

February 03, 2009

Armisen Fauxbama Go Away

Oh, I have to agree 100%. It's like he just gave up completely. What's the point?

February 02, 2009

The Thing About BSG This Season

is that it's hopelessly dark, as always, but without the greatness. It's not the darkness itself that made it a good show. It was a combination of things: great writing, acting, directing, art direction, music, and just a general commitment to the world and the piece as a whole by everyone involved.

Now, pieces have been falling off for two seasons and it's pretty much JUST dark, no longer good. It's like the people who created the characters and situations were body-snatched by aliens who have access to their memories but no inherent understanding of human nature or of nuance. Take Roslyn and Adama. Their bond was romantic, certainly, but not literally romantic, as in I-want-to-date-you romantic. In turning their relationship into an ordinary sexual one, the writers have pretty much destroyed what we loved about each of them separately and together. They were two sides of the same lonely-at-the-top archetype, and now ... they're just a couple.

(They could salvage it by turning them into a real archetype -- like maybe Isis and Osiris, where Adama would get symbolically chopped up and distributed around the galaxy and Roslyn would have to collect his pieces. Or something. --- Oo! Adama should try to jump in a shuttle and the shuttle blows up and Roslyn goes around obsessively collecting the shuttle pieces from where they've been strewn all around by the screwed up jump. The last piece is a sealed part of the cabin with air in it and she finds him still alive. Or something. See? I can do this better than they can now. --- I know they're supposed to be Adam and Eve, barred from Eden, but that's worn thin, and the whole point of Adam and Eve is original sin and fertility, and Adama and Roslyn aren't really fitting into either of those plays.)

The same thing happened in season three with Starbuck and Apollo. They were the classic, archetypal, hopeless unrequited love scenario, and oh ... so well done. They pulled in all kinds of mythical issues. Like the classic Judaic one: do I marry my dead brother's widow? or the Greco/Roman unrequited incest issue with twins Apollo and Diana. But now, they're just characters that had a tawdry affair.

(And hey, what's with the men getting the mythical names and the women not so much? Thrace is a place of little significance and Roslyn?)

Who's making this show now, anyway? And what did they do with the geniuses who did the first two seasons?

January 18, 2009

Requisite BSG Post

I really want to want to blog about Battlestar Galactica, but I just can't be bothered. I just don't care. Is that wrong?

January 06, 2009

BSG 'n' Readin' Update

I'm trying to get myself psyched about the final season of Battlestar Galactica, but it's slow going. There's been such deadeningly bad TV in between, that I can't seem to care very much.

Plus, the clips from Caprica suck.

In other news, I finally read Happy Hour at Casa Dracula by Marta Acosta, a Latina vampire chicklit. Yes, it is. Of course, it's genre-y and there are some plot detail problems, but IT'S ALIVE! IT'S ALIVE!  HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH! Truly, I say to you, I loved it.

I just ordered the next two books on Amazon.

August 11, 2008

Scrappy Doo Syndrome

I think it's usually called "Cousin Oliver Syndrome," after the kid they tried to bring in to save The Brady Bunch. But I'm talking about a very slightly different syndrome here: not the cute kid they bring in to young-up the aging cast, but rather the subgroup of Cousin Olivers who intrude annoyingly into every plot by being stupid and aggressive, and putting themselves and everyone else into danger.

Like Scrappy Doo.

I just identified this one recently in the third installment of "The Mummy" movie franchise (with Brendan Fraser) in which they introduce a now-adult son, Alex, who looks about five years younger than his dad, and is bratty and aggressive without intelligence, charm, or any other sort of stature a fictional character requires to become sympathetic. Because he's now an adult, he gets to share all the ass-kicking with his parents, plus acquires all of the romance part. But he's an annoying Scrappy Doo who distracts and detracts from the characters we're really interested in and adds nothing.

Another recent Scrappy Doo is the Iskierka character in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik, a fire-breathing young dragon utterly without charm who puts everyone in danger because of her thoughtless bloodthirstiness and greed. She was introduced at the end of the third book and has been a drag on the series ever since. (Naturally, she comes in at a point when Temeraire begins to lose the sweetness of innocence and is ready to assert himself as an equal partner in his relationship with Laurence. She's there to make sure we still have our young-dragon hit.)  Novik manages to balance her personality among a number of others, but there's no pleasure in reading about her for me.

This is the same problem with Dawn Summers in the Buffy series. No teenager is really that annoying. She was an adult's idea of a teenager in a show that was about the teenager's idea of a teenager: she was a whiny, stupid teenager incapable of learning lessons, and affecting everyone adversely with her years-long acting out, in a show in which all the other characters had started out as kickass, mature, responsible, knowledgeable, sophisticated, and witty teenagers. Dawn was a box of rocks who, despite being raised by an older sister who fought demons for a living, could never learn not to go wandering off by herself at night. I guess that's supposed to be humorous. You know: irony.

The thing is, the pleasure of young characters--children or teenagers--in a book, or film, or TV show for adult audiences, lies in watching them learn and grow and make choices. The milestones for youth are very clear to adults, and there's a great satisfaction in watching youthful characters pass these. But part of the satisfaction is in watching them pay for their mistakes, or exchange some of the innocence of youth for the sadder wisdom of experience.

Youthful characters who never grow or grow up are inserted into series and franchises as permanent cute vendors. Somehow they are expected to bring the youth-freshness ingredient to the bake-off over and over again because Hollywood seems to think that a character merely embodying the most obvious characteristics of youth (cuteness and whininess) will automatically charm us or call forth our tenderness. They also seem to think that a permanent state of youthful idiocy is funny. But Hollywood thinks a lot of things that aren't so. Hollywood never seems to learn that the youth-freshness ingredient is a combo of a cute face and a satisfying bildungs-arc.

(At least with Novik we can be sure that Iskierka will grow up. I hope it happens soon, though.)

What are your most hated Scrappy Doo characters? (Plus, check out this article on TV's most hated characters, and this one on seven signs your TV show has jumped it.)

Cross-posted on EnterBrainment.

July 03, 2008

My Entertainment Blog!

Hey all,

I know posting has been spotty 'round here lately. Partly because my outrage machine got broke when Obama won the nom. Now I'm keeping my mouth shut while I try to work up more than nominal (get it? nominal?) enthusiasm for his cause.

But it's also because I've been working hard to establish my new entertainment blog. It's called "EnterBrainment" and is my usual thinks-too-much maunderings, except this time, unrepentantly, about the trashiest trash trash.

I'm being paid, you see, to be a featured A & E blogger on a new blogging site called PNN, the personal news network. The innovation of this site is that you can lay out your blog to look like a newspaper, with different pages and sections. The result is halfway between a website and a newspaper, with columns and captioned photos, and headlines, and the works. You kind of have to see it to get it. The way the blogging software works is different from more "traditional" blogging software, and should appeal to people whose minds work in a more modular fashion. The software also rewards multitasking, unlike traditional blogging software, which pretty much restricts your blog posting to one track. Again, you have to see it to get what I mean.

What this all means for my blogging is that I'm getting an excuse to turn my formidable bitchiness on the lightest of pop subjects. It's pretty cool. It is, however, also taking time away from my other blogging.

So please go over and check out EnterBrainment (yes, I know, but I'm old enough to enjoy puns now) and slip me a link if you want. I'm still trying to decide if I'm going to have a blog roll or just a page of feeds. Feel free to make your entertainment blog known to me.


March 02, 2008

SNL's Fauxbama Blackface Thing

Hyphen, as usual, is where I picked up on the public controversy about a non-black multiracial actor playing Obama on Saturday Night Live. (Video above is the second sketch featuring "Fauxbama" Fred Armisen; Hyphen has the first one.)

I saw the previous clip on the SNL site (can't find it now but it's embedded in the Hyphen post above), led there by a discussion about media bias towards Obama, and noticed immediately that the actor playing Obama was wearing dark makeup for the role. My first reaction was, "Oh, boyyyyy ..."

But then, as the sketch played out, I stopped being concerned about it. Why? Why would I be concerned about it in the first place, and why would I stop being concerned after watching the sketch?

It has to do with the nature of "blackface" (or any dramatic portrayal of people of color by white actors). This requires one of my beloved, bullet-pointed breakdowns. Blackface is problematic for reasons historical, intentional, and representational:

  • Historical: blackface was used in minstrel shows and later in blackface sketches in more mainstream vaudeville to humorously denigrate African Americans. Blackface performances found their humor in depicting the worst stereotypes of African Americans. Blackface became most popular during Reconstruction, when the "threat" of black equality was most strongly juxtaposed with a formerly slave culture, and arose out of that racist fear. But these representations have found expression in every era of American entertainment since long before the Revolutionary War.

The length and persistence of this form of racial denigration means that any performance by a non-black of a black character or figure automatically draws on this history, intentionally or unintentionally, and is to be considered carefully if not fully avoided.

  • Intentional: As mentioned above, the main purpose of blackface is to denigrate blacks using humorous depictions of stereotypes.

The other big problem with blackface, after the outright racial denigration that is its purpose, is that it is the incongruity of the makeup on a white actor that creates the humor. Blackface assumes that the racial phenotype it lampoons (dark skin, big lips, kinky hair) is unattractive and ridiculous, and draws its humor from the overposition of exaggerated or imaginary "black" features on white features. It's clown makeup, with the strong implication that blacks are clowns.

  • Representational: a contemporary issue with blackface is the issue of who gets to play black roles in media. There are few enough roles specifically written for African American characters, and few enough casting directors willing to go for nontraditional casting in ethnic-non-specific roles. On top of this, many of the roles written specifically for African American characters are stereotyped and in themselves denigrating.

So having a plum role for an African American character parceled out to a non-black actor is extremely problematic, when there are so many qualified black actors out there looking for work.

Additionally, the very idea that a white actor gets to occupy a plum black role raises the question of who gets to write, embody, and ultimately determine the form and representation of blacks in the public sphere. Casting a white actor is a pretty clear answer in favor of keeping the right of representation with whites.

So, how does the SNL sketch play with these considerations?

Firstly, the sketch does not have racial denigration as its purpose, and there is no unintentional or side-effect racial denigration (in my opinion) happening here. The purpose of the sketch is to lampoon the media's apparent infatuation with Barack Obama; the actor playing Obama needs to exaggerate Obama's personal tics for humorous effect (as SNL does with every politician it mocks) and to portray a stereotype of Obama's public image.  There is complicated racial coding involved in Obama's public image, but this sketch is fairly straightforward, and does not grapple with them, nor (in my opinion) trip over them.

Secondly, the makeup Armisen uses to portray Obama is fairly subtle and clearly used to let the audience know what figure he's depicting, and not to portray Obama's racial characteristics as unattractive or ridiculous

So far so good. On the minus side, however, is the simple fact of the history of blackface and the way that blackface representation is going to play--no matter what its intentions. Putting a nonblack actor in blackface is so easy to avoid, that producers simply cannot avoid the question, "why didn't you just get a black actor to do it?" SNL doesn't have a slick answer for this.

The real answer, of course, is that currently, SNL has only one black male actor, and he looks nothing like Obama and, more importantly, has an acting style that doesn't match Obama's affect well. But that's not an excuse. SNL currently has six white male actors, two white female actors, and two multiracial actors, Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph (the latter of whom is the only actor on the cast whose racial background matches Obama's and who apparently will not return to SNL after the strike.)

Why so many white men? Why so few black men and women? Among other things, it limits (obviously) SNL's ability to successfully represent public figures, and this tokenism is a perennial problem at SNL, which has six different faces to match to white male public figures, but must force black characters into the oeuvre of a single actor. This gets to the heart of the representation issue. Lorne Michaels has tried to play that old chestnut: we cast the best actor for the role, regardless of race. And Armisen does do a credible acting job. But that old record won't play. If you have only one black actor, he's certainly not going to be the best actor for every black role. Some other black actor would be.

But all of this is, again, avoiding the fact that Obama is multiracial. Just because America views Obama as black, doesn't mean he entirely is. And he's toned down his self-representation as biracial because he found it didn't play with either white or black. That doesn't mean he isn't still biracial. So who gets to depict a man who is half white? If they had cast Kenan Thompson as Obama, would he have had to do it in whiteface and would that have been alright?

Add to all of this that Fred Armisen, who actually played Obama, is an extremely multiracial man, part white, part Asian (Japanese) and part Latino (Venezuelan). And it seems I do need to remind people that Latinos are pretty multiracial--and African-mixed--as well, and that Venezuela especially, as a nation on the Caribbean coast, has a strong Afro-Caribbean history and population. That doesn't tell us anything about Armisen himself, but it does tell us a great deal about our own simple-minded, reductivist racial viewpoint.

So the representation piece of this little controversy? I'd say SNL needs to check itself, but so do the sketch's racially simplistic critics. And I'd say that SNL does still need to go ahead with its mockery of the current presidential candidates using the tools at hand, and learn from this controversy that maybe it would be a more interesting show with a less monochromatic cast.

December 22, 2007


All the "Journeyman" episodes are available to watch online now. Check 'em out. Maybe if there's enough interest, they'll renew the series.

December 18, 2007


I read on Wikipedia that Journeyman is about to be cancelled. I hope it's not true. It's a good show, one of the best of this year. Too bad it had kind of a slow buildup.

Oh well, TV is unexciting right now, and it's not because of the strike.

December 05, 2007

Heroes, *sigh*

Dum dum DUM ...

Sylar's back.


We kinda dealt with him last season, though, right? What's there left to do now? I mean, once you've explored near-omnipotent good guys and bad guys, where do you go from there? Just keep bringing them back?

I was liking where the whole thing was going with Parkman's dad, but they decided that anatomy is destiny, and the stocky guys are always gonna be the slobs of the heroes world.

Are Nikki and hubby gonna stay dead? They died so stupidly. And how intensely lame are Monica and Elle? They aren't the slightest bit badass. Are they gonna turn Elle into a good guy? How boring.


I'm bored with Heroes. I'm actually glad the writers are on strike.

November 19, 2007

Jennifer Beals at GLAAD awards

Jennifer Beals is way too awesome.

November 17, 2007

Betty Ugly

I know there's Wilhelmina Slater, but other than her (and she's rich and light-skinned), all the black women in Ugly Betty are stupid. And fat. There's a definite strain of fat, stupid, sexually desperate black women who make fools of themselves for the male characters. And the nonfat, black escapee companion of Mrs. Meade is a huge stereotype. Making the stereotype a joke doesn't make it less of a stereotype, people.

Why, Ugly Betty, why? This season hasn't been great, but you were so refreshingly knowledgeable about race and power. What's up with hating on poor or middle class black women?


October 28, 2007

TV Rearrangemint

So this is what I'm watching now:

  1. Gossip Girl: Blake Lively is well-named. Love her! All the actors, and characters, are alive, fresh, and energetic ... full of their motivations and plans. When the show loses that freshness, I'll lose interest, but for now, it's really, really fun.

  2. Heroes: was testing my patience, but last week's show, with the nightmare dad and the evil Veronica Mars, kicked me into high gear.

  3. Ugly Betty: stalling, but UB's stall is better than most shows' vroom.

  4. Journeyman: which started out slow, but is building up slowly but surely. They need to resolve the brother-thinks-the-lead-is-on-drugs tension soon, though, or it will get boring.

  5. Chuck: like Gossip Girl, there's a lot to dislike here, but the characters (and actors behind them) are so fresh and energetic right now, and the hero, for once, is neither particularly brilliant, nor skillful, nor able to kick people's butts. He's just a really sweet guy (and very cute and built like a model, without having to work out.) Plus, the dialogue is very snappy, and not in wearing way (yet). It could all go horribly wrong in a second, but for now, it's fun.

I may pick up:

  1. Samantha Who?: which I just started watching this weekend. I like it, but I've already seen 13 going on 30.

  2. Aliens in America: which I just started watching this weekend. I like it, but I don't want to relive high school yet again. I hate high school sucks shows.

  3. Dexter, which I can watch on my laptop from work, if I ever get around to it. Still haven't started season 2.

I have stopped watching/tried and will never go back to:

  1. Pushing Daisies: no interest whatsoever. How boring. No spark.

  2. Grey's Anatomy: drove me away. Yuck. I can't even be coherent about how bad that show is. Okay, here's a hint: my two favorite characters were Addison and Burke.

  3. The new thing with Nate from Six Feet Under. Argh.

  4. That misogynist show with four guys including the love interest from Alias. Arrrggh.

  5. Th' Bionic Numnuts. What a stupid show. I keep trying to make myself go over to the website and catch up--I'm like three episodes behind--but I can't make myself do it. This is really a sitch where, if the show were an undergraduate short story, and we were in a workshop, people would be sitting around with their mouths slightly open, shifting in their seats. Someone would finally say: "I really like what you're trying to do with the family situation--with the sisters and their irresponsible father. That's unusual." Then another uncomfortable silence, which would be broken either by the obnoxious guy whose sole purpose there is to tell people they suck when all the others are too conflict-averse to do so, or, if the workshop didn't have someone like that, the instructor, who would ask: "What do you guys think about her use of symbolism?" and everyone would groan internally, but gamely finish out her 45 minutes with discussions of roundhouse kicks and car accidents.

When is BSG starting up again? Will I have time to watch it with all my other commitments?

October 06, 2007

Oh Dear

TV is so crap right now.

"Heroes" and "Ugly Betty" are just as good, but they feel more of the same, somehow. I can't really watch "Dexter" until they make the episodes available, plus I'm worried it's going to sophmore suck. "Grey's Anatomy" always did suck, and now that all our feisty females have been shackled to "where's my man?" plotlines, I have no more addiction. "Private Practice" is just sad.

"The Bionic Woman" has the best intentions in the world, but is suckily written, directed, acted, and produced. The only good thing about it is Starbuck fucking that hot Asian guy. Hott. But the dialogue is painful, the plot gaps are annoying, and the emotional illogic is bewildering ... and then boring.

"Moonlight" I couldn't even be bothered to watch the second episode. Damn, that's bad! "Journeyman" is promising, but no promises. It also has bad dialogue, but it flows.

Where's the stuff that I need to get excited about? Where's the creative new show, or the old show kicking its second season up a notch, and sliding into new territory? Where's the juice? The best new thing I've seen so far, oG help us, is "Gossip Girl."

I'm ready to take back all I said about the golden age of TV serial drama.

July 12, 2007

Dexter on iTunes!


iTunes finally has Dexter!

Plus, this is my 300th post.

May 07, 2007

Book Review Brouhaha

I know I'm cruisin' for a bruisin' when I say this, but I'm not sure losing traditional print book reviews is necessarily---well I won't say "a bad thing" because I don't think it's either a good thing OR a bad thing. I think it's a sign of the times. I mean, of course, that the print book as it is and has been is dying, and the literary establishment is ill, ill, ill-equipped to even recognize that fact, much less prepare itself to move on to the next thing.

"Literary Fiction," i.e. that which is regarded as the high form of the art, and appropriately rewarded with university study and small patches of prestigious prize monies, is the most overworked, trope-ridden, regressive, reificatin', self-diddly on the artistic block. I'm not sayin' that SF is any better--most of it isn't. There aren't many fresh breezes blowin' around the bookshelves is what I'm saying.

I'm not exempting my own work, by the way.

Where the fresh stuff is happening is TV. Yep, you heard me, tv. Film, which is short-form narrative--short stories--is going the way of Salinger product in the decline of the Saturday Evening Post. It's all about the long-form visual narrative now--all about the serial drama. Yes, like the novel in the 19th century, tv drama still carries a whiff of low/bad. But who cares? I defy any random six New York Times' notable novels from last year to compare in excitement, freshness, power, audacity and frank, hardy narrative chops to Heroes, Deadwood, Carnivale, the first two seasons of Battlestar Galactica or Six Feet Under, or, from what I hear, since I don't watch it, The Sopranos.

There's breeziness in anime, too, I'm told, especially the serials, and in manga. There's freshness still in the "graphic novel" revolution, although there I'm also not an expert. And, if Second Life is any indication, RPGs, which themselves are becoming more excitingly narrative, are melding with social networking in a way that bodes extremely well for a new form of interactive narrative art.

Yes, I'm still dreaming of STTNGesque holonovels.

So why are we nerds and geeks left all alone out here in the cold with the naked scion of narrative art? It's the cart/horse thing again: they're cutting the horse loose without investigating what will replace the cart. They're recognizing that people aren't reading book reviews but not looking at why or what the next thing should be. I don't think the answer is to start reviewing games and manga in mainstream print rags. But there COULD be some thought about proselytizing.

Ha, who am I fooling? It took the NYT what, only eighty years to come up with an intermittant column addressing spec fic? Print spec fic.

What I'm saying is, though, without having any answers, that you all intellectuals and readers can stop feeling so good about yourselves. The train is leaving the station and you're still waiting for a blacksmith to come along and reshoe your horse. Go. Ride. Be my guest. Riding is a beautiful sport. It's just not going to get you anywhere anymore, and before you know it, you'll find yourself riding cavalry into WWI against tanks and nerve gas.

The novel is no longer equipped to convey human life at the velocity, within the complexity, to which we've become accustomed. The prose, on-the-page narrative no longer mirrors our existence. God, I love novels. Novels were my first love. But what I loved about novels wasn't the novel itself, but what the novel could do. What it could do to me and with me and what it could do to the world and about the world. Between this moment of my adulthood and my novel-soaked childhood the novel has--between probably last year and this year the novel has--become obsolete.

And the discourse about whither the book, whither the novel just looks brown to me. Brown and crinkly, like a dead leaf.

So either we need to start talking about how to change the novel to help it keep up (html novels, anyone?) or we need to start talking about what we're going to put our narrative energy into instead of the novel.

Of course, I have no intention of stopping my writing. But for the past several years I've been writing with at least a partial understanding of the fact that I need to master the novel at some level so I can help push it forward into its next, less-text incarnation.

Who's with me?

March 11, 2007

BSG Spinoff

Yeah, I'm way behind the times, but I've been sooo gritting my teeth since I heard about the BSG spinoff that I haven't looked into it at all.

Well, I finally did look into it and found out that it takes place fifty years before, on Caprica, and concerns the development of the Cylons.


What part of "Star Trek: Enterprise sucked and the fans hated it" did they not understand? Skiffy is progressive, folks, not regressive. Even if you're, like, Harlan Ellison, and hate women, skiffy is still chronologically progressive. That means don't fucking go back to stuff that we already pretty much know about.

Geez, how hard is that to figure out? But then, that's why BSG is sucking now: because they're going back over stuff they feel they hadn't fleshed out sufficiently the first time around, like exactly how Starbuck's fingers got broked, or exactly how Apollo felt about his grandfather's profession. Guess what? I don't care. Somebody needs to tell these cryptosquares that the writers who worldbuild best are the writers who worldbuild least. Capeesh?

March 06, 2007


Lemme guess, now that Starbuck's DEAD, she gets to come back and haunt people as an angel, sort of like a more annoying Caprica without the red dress. BONG BUH BONGBONG BUH BONGBONG BONG BUH BONGBONG BUH BONG ...

I'm so glad her childhood physical and emotional abuse was all in the service of preparing her to kill herself and take one of the last remaining vipers with her. Oh, and I'm so glad that all those amazing personality quirks that made every BSG fan in the world fall madly in love with her were all the result of abuse---because women aren't that way NATURALLY, they only get mysterious, strong, and enchanting if somebody BEATS ON THEM.

And I'm so glad BSG feels the need to explain EVERY SINGLE LITTLE DETAIL they seeded in the first two seasons, because knowing that every one of Cara's fingers on one hand was neatly broken in the same place wasn't disturbing enough on its own. We had to get to SEE the door slamming on her hand not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES.

I'm so glad it was her military stage mother and not her piano-playing father (hello! How pussy is THAT?) who BEAT ON HER. It's all about strong women, you see. Oh! I get it! Starbuck is B'Elanna Torres! But without the brow ridges and with that dark, grimy edginess that Battlestar Trek Galactica is so rightly famous for. BONG BUH BONGBONG BUH BONGBONG ...

I'm guessing in the next dimension Leoben is going to knock her up with a lil' face-of-the-shape-of-things-to-comebuck, and she's going to stress out about whether or not she'll beat the thing, whether or not it'll have chrome brow ridges, and whether it will be Cylon, Human, or some tragic toastlatto hybrid accepted by neither, reviled by both, and cursed with a bum arm that jerks out with a will of its own at least once a season for the rest of the show's already excessively protracted run, punching its superior officer in the face, and landing its alloyed butt face down in a bucket of water in the brig. It's happened before. It'll happen again.

But BSG has neatly skiied around the shark this time. Why? BECAUSE NO ONE HAS TRIED TO RAPE STARBUCK YET. So you see, the show still has a ways to go to hit rock bottom. Can't WAIT!

February 05, 2007

BSG Sux Redux

'Nuff said.

December 17, 2006


I just watched it, and I'm not durnk, yet as I write this I'm struggling to remember what the episode was about. I'm talking about "The Eye of Jupiter," Battlestar Galactica's mid-season cliff-hanger.

I was actually so appalled at this latest episode that I went to a fansite and scanned the writing credits for each show of the entire series just to make sure they hadn't suddenly started plugging in new writers for season three.

WTF? Starbuck and Apollo having an affair might be in character, but the whole stupid stupid stupid conversation they have about it is sooooooooooooo not. Why does Starbuck suddenly consider marriage a sacrament for no random-ass reason? She married Anders on the fly. Why does Apollo, typically her bullshit detector, just accept this cheap-ass excuse? And then why would Starbuck, who doesn't say things like this, say "Where does that leave us?" And then why would Apollo, who has only just started making stupid stupid stupid melodramatic pronouncements, say "Trapped"?

And can we be more silly and cliched than a "who's in charge?" pissing contest between Apollo and Anders which ends with a "I'm gonna shoot you if you disobey orders" stupid stupid stupid cliched scene?

And what's with the dumb stupid stupid dumb "We still love you but we have to exclude you" scene between Deanna, Caprica, and Gaius? It's like the writer jerked awake at 3 a.m. at the computer the night before they were to shoot that episode and realized that s/he needed to set Caprica up with a reason to betray Deanna and Gaius. And Deanna's whole trip is even more vague and random than Cylon motivations usually are down BSG way. If we're gonna go there, can we get some more specificity?

And don't make Hera suddenly sick after half a season of ignoring her. You can drop in a scene or two of something every episode until you're ready to address it directly, can't you? That's what you used to do. Oh, BSG, we hardly knew ye! Don't die! Please don't die! We love you! Please, fight! Rage, rage against the dying of the light!

December 09, 2006

TV Rattle

I am soooo not watching "The Nine" anymore. I don't really remember when or why I lost interest in it, but I haven't watched it for weeks. I think it's because it tries for psych complexity but fails. People always come down on one side or another side of something in every episode. Even if they keep changing their minds. It's splitting black and white into smaller and smaller modules, so if you stand back far enough, it looks grey, but it's really just a bunch of tiny black or white dots. Anyhoo, "The Nine" is outta there. Don't care.

I've had deep conversations about "Battlestar Galactica," and I think the show is in serious danger of starting to suck. I hope enough people are making noise about this that they start to take notice. As I write this I am downloading this week's episode. Please god, don't let it suck.

Bummed about the infrequency of "Ugly Betty", but very glad Betty is interested in Henry. Walter has good ideas, but his presence is so insufferable. I cannot understand why Sofia is even remotely interested in whatsisface. Sooo unattractive. But whatever.

I've started watching "Grey's Anatomy" again. Realizing that they strike a good balance on the show--a balance of what, I'm still trying to figure out. But I look forward to the show in a way that I do not look forward to, say, "The Nine," or even "Ugly Betty" for that matter. I still hate the lead actress, who has no charisma, is anorexic, lisps, has a baby voice, is 37, looks it, and should not be playing an ingenue (get me not wrong: I am 36 and have no problem with women being and looking 37, but they should not be playing ingenues). McDreamy is unacceptably smarmy. But I don't watch the show for them. I watch it for everyone else.

Finally, I have given up on "Studio 60" being good. I'm still watching it because it's fun and I like the characters, but it's cheap and easy and means nothing to me, baby, nothing. Memo to Aaron Sorkin, re: your sucky inability to make anyone bad: Dude, get over yourself. Not everyone can be a good guy. Not everyone needs to be a good guy. And guess what? In television, not everyone can be a good guy. That everyone at "NBS" is motivated by noble things is completely unbelievable, and your entire audience knows it. You're losing us, dude, and you're soft as cheese doing it. If you don't start introducing real conflict with a real face (blaming everything on faceless Christian hordes, or faceless TV censors isn't gonna cut it for much longer) we're all gonna die of terminal narcolepsy.

"Heroes" is, god help me, complex. For everything I don't like about the show, there's one thing I like, and one thing that completely puzzles me. Could it be that they know what they're doing? All the shows are up on the NBC site over the holidays and Ima watchem all. Then I will blog--god help me will I blog.

December 03, 2006

Kickass BSG

(Warning: geek blog post, for BSG geeks only.)

Okay, this week's episode of Battlestar Galactica rocked! It didn't rock, but it rocked!

I haven't been blogging about BSG because, frankly, it hasn't been all that good this season. The ideas are good, but the realization of the ideas ... not so much. All the hallmarks of the show that have made it such a revelation---the moral ambiguity, the multi-episode conflicts, the refusal to explain or to wrap up everything in a tidy moral or rousing speech, the ability to use the fucking visual medium already and show-not-tell---have been largely missing this season. WTF? Have they forgotten how to do it?

Every episode has been a single arc, pretty much. Every episode introduces a conflict, deals with the conflict, wraps up the conflict. Rousing speech. Basta. Plus, each episode deals with a thinly veiled Metaphor For Something That's Going On Right Now. It's like Star Trek. We're not watching this to get our Star Trek on. That's what the CSI franchise is for.

BSG is about reading a novel; investing in characters and long-term conflicts, not so we can see them neatly resolved, but so we can watch how characters behave under the deforming effects of ongoing conflict. We don't want everyone to have the chance to be a good guy. We want everyone to have the chance to be a bad guy, and then watch, fascinated, what they do with it.

Last season Starbuck had the opp to identify with Admiral Cain and lose a part of her humanity. That opp disappeared without a peep. Last season Apollo had the opp to go to the dark side, lose his courage, become a thug. This season, it's like it never happened. The Chief ended up marrying the woman he beat up in a delirium of self-hatred, and there's not a crack in their baby-makes-three happiness. Sharon had the opp to become of two minds about her betrayal, instead, she marries Helo, reconciles happily with everybody, and even gets a lovely, mythological call sign ("Athena," but damn if I'm gonna call her that). I was hoping that at least Tigh would get all ambiguous and go off and sow discontent in the fleet. But one episode after he quits, fucking Adama Rousing Speeches him and he ends up right back where he was, with flashbacks of his deliciously morally ambiguous wife, but no real edge left. Even Gaeta is forgiven and forgotten. And we've lost Gaius entirely to the cowardly side. Dude, where's my conflict?

This week's episode, despite my encomium above, is more of the same SPOILER ALERT: there's a cheeeeeeeeeeeseball scene where Starbuck and Apollo finally get it on (mercifully edited so we don't get any glowing sex scenes) and then go on to, literally, declare their love for each other to the heavens. Yak. There's a place near the end where Adama wraps up his conflict with Tyrol (and by extension, the whole crew and the whole fleet) with a, you guessed it, Rousing Speech. And the ending is pure whipped cream. Here's a hint: Starbuck and Apollo hug and tell each other how much they missed each other. Huh. I missed them too, but do you see me hugging and saying so?

But in between the cheeseass bullshit was a kickass BSG episode dying to come out. Let me rewrite it---no, let me just edit out the badness and reveal the kickass goodness within:

The crew of BSG are having a "dance," i.e. a rank-free boxing tournament where they can beat old and new grudges out of each other. We begin with Apollo vs. Helo, obviously (without anyone needing to say so, folks!) punching out their lingering resentments over Helo sabotaging the biological anti-cylon weapon against Apollo's orders. During this fight, Apollo keeps flashing back to a day and night on New Caprica where something went down between him and Starbuck. Meanwhile, Starbuck is having breakup sex with Anders in the dorm. He tells her he wants her back. She says no and goes to the dance. Apollo see her, loses his fight.

Starbuck gets called out by Hotdog and wins. A few more random fights follow (with Kat beating another woman, possibly Racetrack). Throughout there are flashbacks by Apollo and Starbuck about that one night, and also by Adama and Roslyn about the same night. The structure and pacing of the episode is beautiful; almost as good as "33," the award-winning premiere episode of the series. (If you haven't seen this one, see it.) A scene between Adama and Roslyn on the fateful night subtly suggests not merely that there's sexual tension between the two of them, but that that tension may have found an outlet on New Caprica. This is fittingly left as is. There are also flashbacks of Tyrol asking for permission to resign and raise his family on New Caprica. Adama calls out Tyrol, who doesn't take the fight seriously, until Adama beats some seriousness into him. Tyrol ultimately wins the fight and Adama (this is my rewrite) gives him a meaningful, triumphant look (end of rewrite) and shuffles out of the ring.

Tigh declares the dance over, but Starbuck can't let it go. Throughout the episode, every time Starbuck or Apollo has been punched in a fight, they've each flashed back to that one night on New Caprica, and it gets more exciting every time. Finally, Starbuck pushes Apollo into punching her and the fight is on. As we knew already, when the two are finally in the ring together, we get to see the substance of that key night. But what's really exciting about this sequence isn't that they get it on on New Caprica, but that they get it on in the ring. Apollo, who's been domesticated in this season and is just this side of boring, shows that menace contained by decency---that dangerousness that he usually masks with paternalistic authority---with bared teeth and an unrelenting scowl. Starbuck laughs and teases and tortures him until he starts hitting her in earnest. I'm glad they didn't even attempt a sex scene, because nothing can compete with this.

The fight scene is interspersed with flashbacks of Starbuck taking Apollo to the site where she plans on building a house, and telling him she doesn't plan to marry Anders. (In my rewrite, the love declaration scene is excised.) She wakes up the next morning naked with him on the ground. He wakes up the next morning naked and alone. He half-dresses and goes back to town where Adama tells him that Starbuck and Anders just got married. Apollo gives a beautiful, choked, devastated take. Just then, the newlyweds re-enter the scene and Apollo goes to meet them. Anders, unlike Adama, notes that something's wrong between them. Starbuck gives a beautiful, unreadable, half-smiling, half-crying look.

This is why these two were cast. They have that one-in-a-million chemistry that you can't fake. When they're in a scene together, Starbuck just looks beautiful, and Apollo just looks dangerously happy and baffled. This is what we go to the movies for. You could write a scene where Apollo and Starbuck sit side-by-side watching a tennis tournament---or a scene where they stuff envelopes in silence, where they do dishes---and once the actors were done with it, your panties would be wet. She is what they call in clichéland "a force of nature," a fucked up, amazing woman with a brightness she throws everywhere, an inability to reflect, and an absolute presence in the moment. He's a typical decent guy who doesn't like to reflect, either, but does like to order things according to his sense of morality. Without any Starbucks in the world, he'd be a better man, but less vivid. In her presence he lives in duality, constantly tempted to be less good, but more alive, than he usually is. And he doesn't ever understand why she does what she does. He's the one person she can push so far that she loses control of his response.

They beat each other and beat each other until they're tired (in my rewrite, we excise the flashbacks to the rest of their relationship), then they just stand there, leaning on each other for a long, long time, while the excited audience gets bored and wanders away. (My rewrite) nothing is said. No one is hugged (end of my rewrite).

Now, isn't that an episode you want to see?


Okay, after sleeping on it, I'm realizing the function of the declaration of love scene. We do need a scene where Apollo and Starbuck drop their defenses totally and are totally intimate. Starbuck's way of seduction is always contention, competition: she seduces Gaius through a poker game (whatever happened to that amazing thread, anyway? He just forgets about her), she seduces Anders through a pyramid game. But sex for her isn't necessarily about intimacy. She was perfectly happy last season to attempt to seduce Apollo as a way of keeping her distance from him. It's Apollo who invests sex with too much weight---more than it deserves, actually.

For her betrayal of Apollo on New Caprica to have real weight, they have to give in totally to one another. I get that. But to have Starbuck having sex with Apollo as a way of warming her up to intimacy, and then shouting her love for him to the heavens is just ... out of character. This is a cookie-cutter love scene straight out of romantic drama one-oh-one. Starbuck is work. You don't just fuck her and then get her to behave like a romantic lead. She has to be coaxed and won, over and over again.

So this scene needs to not be about sex, or about post-coital vowiness. The writers needed to find some way of showing them being intimate in an in-character way, showing them being playful with each other, possibly playing a silly word game or something, but in a way that allows them, slowly, over the course of the scene, to release the contentiousness of their play and turn it into something they do together, turn it into something tender and intimate. This would be especially effective in contrast to the intimacy of them beating the shit out of each other in the ring.

Over and over again, with Starbuck, the writers/producers are kickass with showing her usual MO: how she turns other people's tenderness into weapons, how she fights and lures people, and turns around on a dime. She's an amazing character. Yet, over and over again the writers/producers flub the scenes where she allows herself to be vulnerable. They almost got it right with the Casey scenes when she was in detention. But they can't seem to figure out how Starbuck herself would let her guard down. She's not a romantic lead, folks! She's deformed by pressure and heat. She can't take the straightest line, and she's far too intuitive to follow societal behavioral cues. She never does what's expected of people.

And Apollo's more than a straight man. He understands what she means very well, he just doesn't understand why. And he can't predict when she's going to turn (although all of us can by now), so he's constantly betrayed by it. So when she lets it all go, Apollo will know immediately. He should be there, with her. He should even take advantage a little bit, in his sort of bludgeoning, I-don't-get-it way. There can't ever be a perfect moment with them, because there's always a level of power struggle between them, and for either one to be intimate with the other, they have to win or lose. And neither can stand losing.

Anyway, that's how deeply I sink into this narrative. I haven't talked this much about characters since I was reading Dostoievski and George Eliot way back when. That's why I love this show so much. Real characters.


Annalee Newitz hated the boxing episode, but don't worry, I gave her an earful on the way to the bar.

InNoWriMo Tally:
Today's totally lame and pathetic wordcount: 952
Total wordcount: 29,385

November 20, 2006

Takei Joins "Heroes" Cast!


Hyphen mag tells us that George Takei, a.k.a. Mr. Sulu from the original "Star Trek" series, is joining the cast of "Heroes" as Hiro's father.


Takei is a bit of a hero of mine, one of the best-known Asian American faces, an actor who has never sold out, or (that I know of) taken any roles that denigrate Asian Americans, and who has remained true to the Asian American community throughout his career, acting in community independent films, sitting on nonprofit boards, and turning out appearances at community fundraisers over and over.

He raised this to another level last year when he came out as gay, uninspired by any Perez Hilton-style outing shenanigans, and then connected that experience with his childhood experience in the Japanese American internment camps. He's also long been active in LGBT organizations. He followed this up with a Human Rights Campaign-sponsored "Equality Trek," a speaking engagements tour around the country.

The campaign to get Captain Sulu his own "Star Trek" series failed, but honoring not just the stature of the Sulu character, but also the stature of the actor who plays him, should be a priority down "Star Trek" way. If they ever do another series ...

Meanwhile, we get to see him on "Heroes." How appropriate!

(Cross-posted at Other Magazine Blog.)

InNoWriMo Tally:
Today's wordcount: 5037
Total wordcount: 7861

October 29, 2006

Television Update

Okay, so all that stuff about the economics of buying TV shows on iTunes ... pure bullshit.

ABC and NBC are posting full episodes online a day or two after they're aired. The free online episodes usually beat the iTunes paid episodes to the interweb. The free ones have commercials, but not as many as on TV. Basically, it's win-win.

As a result of this, I've started watching "Ugly Betty" (The Devil Wears Prada without the makeover and with a Latina, Queens, and Spanish-language soaps) and "The Nine." I'm probably going to drop "The Nine," though. It's not really that interesting for me. Big deal. So they were holed up in a bank for 52 hours and some things happened. I don't really care what happened, to be honest. Maybe I'll keep watching.

I have room for more hour-long dramas because I'm probably not going to be able to watch "Dexter." I don't have a TV and won't buy one or get cable just for one show. And it doesn't look like Showtime is in any rush to make free episodes available or to sell episodes on iTunes (why not? I dunno). So it'll probably slip off my radar. Which would be a pity.

So that leaves the lineup:

1. BSG, which I would walk through fire to watch, but fortunately don't have to, Showtime execs.
2. Ugly Betty
3. Heroes
4. Studio 60

and maybe

5. The Nine

That enough TV for you?

October 25, 2006

Studio 60

Okay, while I'm at it, let me just say that it's only the fourth episode and they don't have any right to do a sentimental walk-down-memory-lane episode yet, but I loved the episode this week. The shot at the end where the old guy talks about his crush while Harriet appears briefly in the doorway is beyond cheesy. But actually kind of beautiful, too. Argh, and I'm not even drunk.

Watch it.

Who's On First?

Was watching Studio 60 (on the internet) tonight and they kept mentioning "Who's on first?" which I haven't heard since I was a kid. So I went looking for it (on the internet) and naturally found it. Who? Naturally.

For Your Delectation. And I don't give a darn!

October 15, 2006

More "Dexter"

Okay, folks, show some support!

You can watch edited (as in edited for tv) versions of the first two episodes of "Dexter" for free here

Let's get some buzz rolling, people! I like this show!

(Caveat: these online streaming thingies don't really work well on my computer. I don't know if it's just me or if it's the fault of the website and the tech they're using. I'm too unsavvy to tell. I wish they'd clean it up, though. It's really hard to watch.)

October 11, 2006


I just recently added the "TV" category to my blog because, with this whole iTunes thing happening, for the first time in forever I've been able to keep up with TV shows as they happen.

I don't own a TV. I did own one for several years, but didn't have cable, so I could only get in two channels well. Also, for years I had a job that required me to work evenings, so I never could get into the habit of being at home at a certain time on a certain day. DVDs took away the urgency to do this anyway.

But now, with the leetle TV serial drama revolution that's happening, and with the existence of truly great shows (like "Carnivale") being so fragile, I'm inspired to watch them as they happen, in ways that can make my dollars into votes. Also, free sneak peeks on the internet!

It's interesting about paying for TV shows on an individual basis, because it feels expensive, yet these are mostly cable shows that you could only get by paying $40+ a month for cable. By choosing to buy $30-40 seasons of four shows, I'm actually saving money (not to mention the time I would be spending trying to justify having cable by watching more TV). The economics of this are fascinating. I love how enormous-budget industries are finally figuring out how to use the internet to make massive profits by picking up small units from a nearly infinite number of nibbling individuals. New Economy Fascinating! Too bad we don't have enough oil to make the new economy last long enough to turn into something cool.

Anyhoo, here's the haps in my TV-watching world:

1. When is Showtime going to make "Dexter" available for download on iTunes? I'm seriously considering writing them about it.

2. "Battlestar Galactica" Season 3's season pass finally is available on iTunes. Yep, that's $40 that'll keep on giving. Mmmmm ... fat Apollo.

3. "Studio 60" is taking days to get their new episodes up. And what's up with not providing season passes?

4. "Heroes" is better about the timeliness. In fact, I'm already an episode behind.

These are my regular picks for this season. Anything I'm missing that I just have to see? Plus:

5. I'm picking up individual episodes of Morgan Spurlock's "30 Days", as they interest me. This is a tough show, because some of the issues it addresses make for boring television. The episode where the pro-choice advocate went to live in a pro-life home was super-yawn, because both the pro-choice woman and the pro-life couple were smart, active, well-educated in their work, and had not an ounce of room to budge. So nothing happen. They were even too polite to really argue. On the other hand, the illegal immigration piece was fabulous, because the Minutemen guy they sent to live with the undocumented family was so counterintuitive: an immigrant himself, and Cuban, too. Documentary TV, though, folks! Cool!

6. I have dropped "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost." In fact, I was watching them only on DVD so I dropped them both after the first season. With so many good shows on, it takes more than loyalty to keep me watching something that bores or embarasses me. I'm probably dropping "Nip/Tuck" as well. I barely made it through the DVDs of season 3. Shark jumping is a sad thing. I have definitely dropped "24," not merely because it was getting incredibly stupid (it spun the shark when Jack killed his lover's husband) but because it's so obviously a political tool to prepare the public to accept torture. Politically incorrect TV bad!

7. I might pick up "The Nine" on DVD later.

8. Where the hell is my "Deadwood"? Why can't I download HBO shows?

My world is so sad. I think I'll go donate some money to moveon.org in penance.

October 05, 2006


I am now officially being used to market tv shows. So cool! Some marketer from Showtime sent me to a sneak peek website for the new Showtime drama "Dexter" to get me to write about it and, because I want to keep getting free sneak peeks, I'm doing so. I'd post the info on how to get the free sneak peek, but the website sucks and the streaming video tech was faulty. The show didn't stream smoothly so it was really difficult to watch. So don't bother.

Anyhoo, the show is based on a novel, which in itself is cool, because it means there's a new way for novelists to sell out to Hollywood, which is what I'm hoping will happen to my nobble. I don't want 2/3 of it cut out so it can fit into a 2 hour movie, I want a tv drama made out of it! (Hmmm ... maybe I should finish writing it first.)

Anyhoo hoo, the title character, Dexter, is a forensics expert with the Miami police department (he specializes in blood splatters) and, it turns out, is also a sociopath who has channeled his homicidal tendencies into murdering serial killers. Yep, that's right. He's a serial serial killer killer.

I generally don't like serial killers, serial killer movies, serial killer books, or serial killer shows (like "Profiler") because I find serial killers scary without being at all rewarding. I didn't bother seeing the other Hannibal Lecter movies, and I avoid most horror films anyway. And frankly, "Nip/Tuck" jumped the shark for me when they made the serial killer a series regular. But this one I like. For several reasons. And no, I'm not just saying that to get more free sneak peeks.

First of all, serial killers are scary without being rewarding because we only get to see somebody profiling them, and then, at best, shadowy images of them killing people in horribly creative ways. We don't get to (and you'll know I'm a writer when I say this) sympathize with them, see into their point of view. Well here, that's exactly what you get. We're welded to Dexter's very forthcoming first person. We hear him thinking, we hear him addressing us in his thoughts, we see everything he does, and get in on his conversations, too. Everything short of a direct address into the camera eye. He's our guy.

He's no talented Mr. Ripley, though. Ripley was a work of genius (book, not movie) because Ripley had no excuses, wasn't trying to channel his selfishness into good, and wasn't whining about his troubled childhood, yet Highsmith made him sympathetic. Dexter, on the other hand, only kills bad people, although he does so really horribly, and the pilot episode hints with ribs-bruising nudges that he was badly abused as a young child (he admits to his loving foster father that he can't remember anything before he came to live with his foster parents--and started carving up the neighbors' pets).

The whining is limited, although I'm worried that we'll develop his sad past as the show goes on. I think that would be a mistake. The hint is enough. What's great (so far) about the show is that Dexter may have learned from his foster father to channel his violence, but he's a violent sociopath nonetheless. He's extremely disturbing, his responses to others' murders are extremely disturbing, and no punches are pulled about why he's killing his victims: he's hungry for the kill and he can't help himself. He doesn't fool himself or try to fool us that he's in it for the good he's doing.

There's also a lot of attempted humor in the show, some of which lands and some of which doesn't. Because we're following Dexter's pov, there's a lot of poetry and drama in his pursuit of victims and his study of their killing habits. But when he's forced to interact with people, the lights get too bright, as does his smile, and there's a touch of absurdism to all the proceedings. This is deliberate, but it's not "American Psycho"-style attempted social critique. The absurdity of his human interactions is intended to alienate the audience from the people in his life and marry them to his pov. It works.

The pilot centers around Dexter meeting a soul mate: a serial killer whom he calls an artist, who is smart enough to figure Dexter out before Dexter figures him out. The end of the pilot is a calling card from the mysterious other asking Dexter to come out and play. By the time we follow Dexter into his house to find the creepy message, we're so inside his head that we don't find the message creepy, or scary, or disturbing at all. We find it, like Dexter does, exhilarating.

The show also has some beautiful visual moments, not least a scene in a drug lord's all-white apartment where Dexter, for his forensics work, has drawn lengths of red wool from the blood splatters on the walls to a central point to demonstrate the splatter patterns caused by the killings.

Plus, Julie Benz, who played Darla on "Angel", has a plum role here as Dexter's girlfriend, a woman he picked out because she was so damaged from her last, abusive relationship, that she has no interest in sex, which characteristic she shares with Dexter, although he can't let her know that.

Altogether, a show I'm planning on downloading, as soon as it shows up on iTunes ...

If you have Showtime, the pilot is playing for the next three days or so, so definitely go check it out. It's complex, it's well written, it's well produced, and who knew Michael C. Hall was so hot--especially because he's so creepy?

October 03, 2006

Things Goin' On In My Empty Head

Still fighting a cold (a cold! I haven't had one of those in years!) and my head is emptier than usual.

But yes, I am always this obsessed with television drama, especially when it's good. Why are we getting so many good television dramas these days? Could it be because our leaders are so shockingly horrible that we can't really watch what they're doing or we'll gouge out our own eyes? We've gotten used to torture and kidnapping and not habeusing corpuses and all sorts of anti-social-programs and anti-education hijinks ... but a pedophile heading up the anti-pedophile caucus in the Senate? Wow.

No wonder people are shooting up the Amish. The world is crazy.

October 02, 2006

A Defense of "Heroes"

I've heard some bad feedback on the new tv drama "Heroes" and I'm a bit confused. What's so bad about it?

I've only seen the pilot, and not subsequent episodes, but the main issues I've heard of so far have been that it develops too slowly, that there are too many characters, and that the characters are stereotypes.

The show is about a buncha people who discover that they have superpowers; I think there are supposed to be ten main characters. So far in the pilot we've only met nine of them. Okay, it's traditional to intro all your main xtrs in the pilot, but why do you have to? Answer: you don't. I've had no trouble keeping the xtrs intro-ed so far in order, so I'll have little problem adding one more, if that's what it takes. My favorite shows (Deadwood, Battlestar Galactica, not mention my less-favorites like Lost) all have ten or more major characters to keep track of and no one seems to have any trouble with this.

I think the problem here is that if each of the xtrs has a superpower, then each should have equal weight in the show. In other shows, only two or three xtrs are presented as main xtrs and the rest are supporting. So, because there's a hierarchy, no one has trouble keeping track, even if all of the xtrs have equal time. Actually, it might be a cognitive thing: I seem to remember reading somewhere that you can only focus on so many things at once, but you can note and follow a much great number, provided all these things are given different priorities. Does anyone know anything about this?

As far as the pace goes: most of these characters are only just starting to discover their powers. I've heard complaints that they're taking too long, but discovery of and learning to use their powers appears to be the narrative arc of the first season. Is half the story supposed to take place in the first episode? That's a lot to ask of a show. I'm a big fan of "Unbreakable", which I understand a lot of people hated. I think there's going to be a similar division for this show: people who loved "Unbreakable", the mature pacing and novelistic examination of character, will enjoy this show and people who hated it because it isn't a fast-paced action flick will not enjoy this show.

Yes, some of the characters are riding the edge of stereotype. The Japanese xtr is a Star Trek geek. The Indian xtr is a science prof. The two women heroes (so far) are both blonde, and one is a stripper, one is a cheerleader. Where's the ugly geek girl? Didn't they make so many xtrs to have diversity?

On the other hand, the stripper is the mother of a biracial genius-boy. Yes, the show gets points just for including a multiracial child, extra points for not falling all over themselves to explain his presence ('cause, really, how multiracial children come about is pretty fucking obvious.) There's another, unremarked, interracial relationship on the show as well, and points for that too. Points for the token black being a beautiful woman--possibly a damsel in distress--and not one of those mysteriously-ebonics-speaking-yet-completely-isolated-from-the-African-American-community-and-happy-to-be-a sidekicks. Am undecided about the Latino being an artist; seems like a latent stereotype.

But some of the superpowers seem designed to complicate or subvert the stereotypes of the xtrs. The cheerleader is the strong, unbreakable one (not that we haven't seen that before); the victimized stripper is the vicious killer; the male nurse can fly (maybe). Basically, there hasn't been enough time spent on xtrization to make any definitive statements about stereotypes yet. Wait and see.

Altogether, I'm excited about this show. There are enough smart, culturally savvy elements here to keep me watching for awhile, and since Lost lost me (yes, there is such a thing as too slow, even in my "Unbreakable"-lovin' world), I need something to take its place.

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