Tag: television (page 2 of 5)

Doing Bad Things Well

Courtesy HBO

There are lots of stories out there with vampires in, but few keep me coming back for more. I only made it through the first few chapters of Twilight. I haven’t touched anything related to the Cirque du Freak. And as much as I think that the Coppola/Oldman Dracula from 1992 is something of an ur-text for how vampires should be portrayed, I only watch it every couple of years.

True Blood is different. It’s not just the fact that it’s doled out to us episodically or that it’s on HBO, if you know what I mean. I could point to broad things like “scary good writing” or “excellent production values” (the occasional botched special effect aside) but I think there’s more to it. Let’s sink our fangs in a bit deeper.

Realistic Relationships

Courtesy HBO

Now, obviously, I’m not referring to a relationship between a vampire and a girl who might be part fairy as ‘realistic’. What I mean is, the way Sookie and Bill deal with one another, the trials they face and the problems that occur strikes me as not only realistic, but mature.

These are two individuals who care very deeply for one another. And unlike some of the other manifestations of such a relationship that are out there, these two not only go to great lengths in an attempt to secure each others’ happiness, they also communicate their feelings to one another to the best of their ability. Sometimes the words come out all wrong, and sometimes Bill loses his mind from starvation and nearly kills Sookie, but this leads me to the thing that really underscores the power of this relationship.

They want to work together to make the relationship a lasting one, because they love each other that much. Even when Sookie is so mad at Bill she could spit nails, to the point of pushing him away, it’s clear she still feels every bit as intensely now as she did when she first met him. And Bill would step aside to let Sookie be with someone who could give her children and not drag her into the blood-drenched world of his kind, because he loves her deeply and cares more about her happiness than just about anything else. It’s a nuanced and well-developed relationship that continues to be realistic in its portrayal of those in the real world, rather than becoming a parody or worse, some form of moralizing. I’m looking at you, Ms. Meyer.

Positive, Deep Characters

Courtesy HBO

Let’s face it. “God hates fangs” is one letter away from being a very real and very disturbing messages some churches love to propagate. True Blood is something of an Aesop (albeit a broken one) for many minorities that are discriminated against. A lot of fiction out there prefers to play this discrimination or stereotype for laughs rather than give us a positive view of what these people are really like. For example, while there is some good stuff in The Birdcage, for the most part it’s a madcap comedy. True Blood went in a different direction than comedic representation from the very first episode, with Lafayette.

In the Southern Vampire Diaries, Lafayette’s something of a minor character. In the television series, he’s come to play a pretty important role in the goings-on. He’s unashamed of who he is, unafraid to put a few extra touches on himself to look gorgeous and definitely willing to throw punches at folk who have a problem with him being who he is. Now, the fact that he’s a drug dealer and occasionally puts on webcam shows of himself aren’t terribly positive aspects of the character, but he’s made it clear that he cares more about the people in his life – his cousin Tara, Sookie, his mother, etc – than any cash he might make. He’s a pretty stand-up guy, when you get right down to it, and he’s always around to talk sense into folk when they’re being dumb.

Most of the characters show this sort of depth, but… not all of them are positive.

Compelling Villains

Courtesy HBO

With the likes of Eric and Russell Edgington running around, it’s clear that True Blood isn’t interested in making their villains one-dimensional cackling characters in the mold of Snidely Whiplash. As the show progresses, the raising of the stakes comes with more interesting and difficult to predict antagonists. Neither of the affecting forces in the second season, Maryann or the Fellowship of the Sun, can really hold a candle to Russell Edgington. What will it mean, I wonder, if Eric actually manages to take Russell down? Will that make Eric, by default, the biggest vampire bad on the block?

It’s not even clear if Eric is a villain, per se. While he was clearly started as something of an antagonist towards Bill and Sookie’s idea of a quiet life together, he’s shifted into more of a gray area. He’s a bastard, sure, and manipulates people around him without much thought outside of himself most of the time. But he does care about things – Godric, Pam, avenging his mortal family who’ve been dead over a thousand years – and more than once shows that under the quiet, confident smirks and deadpan remarks is a character every bit as deep and complex as the protagonists. Whichever side of the fence Eric ends up on, be it that of our heroes or that of himself first and foremost, I’m definitely a fan.


Those are just a few reasons True Blood works as a tale with vampires in, and why people like me are tuning in every week. Of course, having vampires that look like this doesn’t hurt, either:

Courtesy HBO

Unfortunately I won’t be able to see tonight’s episode until around Wednesday. Hopefully I can avoid spoilers, but I am dying to know what happens after Mr. Edgington’s little telecast.

Watch LOST? Good. Now, get lost.

I HAVE FURY!

I really like the work of JJ Abrams. I’ve seen bits and pieces of his TV show LOST and I’ve liked what I’ve seen. I like that it makes people think, posits difficult questions to both its characters and the audience, and has a bit of an old-fashioned serial feel to it. I dig all of that.

The show ended last night, and people for the most part like how it ended. They like that it still provoked thought at the end. And they laugh at people who are pissed off because it’s over but it’s still making people’s brains hurt when they try to use them. I dig that, too.

But everywhere I turn, people are blathering on about LOST, and it’s kind of pissing me off.

My wife’s never seen it. I missed the first year or two. So, we’ll be going back and starting from the beginning. That means I’d like to avoid spoilers. Which, in turn, means I need to avoid 90% of the blogs, feeds and Facepages I tend to visit. It’s also irritating because there are interesting conversations going on in which I can’t participate because I have no frame of reference. And by the time I am up to speed, none of my points will be particularly relevant.

I know, that’s pretty much true of any damn review I do on this blog, but I’m still miffed about this, dammit.

It could just be residual anger over the issues I’m having trying to get World of Warcraft working on my Linux laptop. Just because you can install Linux on just about anything doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll work. It’s so close, I’m either going to sort out this last little bug or I’ll have to break down and find a way to install a stable copy of Windows on a different partition through a USB key.

Oh, and there’s still unpacking to do in the new flat, at least one load of laundry needs to get done so there are clean teatowels to tackle the ever-growing stack of dishes in the sink, and my older sister’s wall map and an old monitor linger at the old place.

And that’s not even touching my dayjob workload or my desire to finish the novel in the next couple of weeks or so.

Good times. Happy Monday, everybody!

Farewell to the Tube

Television

I have almost an entire season of 24 sitting on my DVR at home. I’m going to need to watch it all in the next few weeks, since my wife and I will be moving sometime around May. When we move, it’s likely we’ll be leaving the television behind.

Well, we’ll be taking the television set with us, but the television service is another matter. This is a shame, and not just because we’re fans of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. We also like the shows listed below. I’ve gone into detail previously as to why these shows rock our collective socks, and someday I’ll talk about Bones and a few others. But, for now, here’s what we’ll be missing when we move.

I mean, we’ll still have the internet so we can probably snag episodes online after the fact, but still…

House

Best medical show on television.

Fringe

John Noble (and Gene)

White Collar

White Collar

Burn Notice

Burn Notice (image courtesy tvgasm)

NCIS & NCIS: Los Angeles

Naval Criminal Investigative Service

Castle

ABC's Castle

Willing To Explain Why You Suck

Courtesy leadershipdynamics.wordpress.com

Internet criticism is certainly nothing new. In fact, just about anywhere you turn along the so-called “information superhighway” you will come across critics of one form or another, even if an argument made against a particular point only takes the form of a lolcat. However, some Internet critics have carved out niches for themselves either through focus, format or both. Three come to mind, for me, and act as something of an inspiration for my IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! reviews.

sfdebris

Chuck (again, not Magic Talking Beardman Chuck) has spent quite a lot of time assembling what he calls an ‘opinionated episode guide’ for Star Trek. Specifically, he started with Voyager. He later began to cover Enterprise as well as the British sci-fi comedy series Red Dwarf. He also wrote a sweeping fiction series crossing Star Trek with Star Wars, for which he won an award. No, really. And this was before he started his YouTube channel.

In addition to being comprehensive and funny, Chuck often reminds us that his criticism of a given episode, series or movie is just his opinion. He welcomes discussion and even opposition to his ideas. He, like my next critical exemplar, encourages the audience to think, rather than sit back & switch off higher brain functions in order to take in some shallow, pandering, distracting colors & sounds that call themselves ‘entertainment.’

Confused Matthew

Rather than focus on a particular series or even genre, Confused Matthew went about his video reviews of films with thoughts like “Why did people like this?” or “How did this movie even get greenlit?” While these lines of thought have caused him to add to the many critics pointing out the things that went wrong with the Star Wars prequels, the Matrix sequels and Star Trek: Generations, he’s also gone on the record as saying that The Lion King is a pretty terrible film and that Minority Report is awful despite the ringing praise of critical luminary Roger Ebert.

More often than not, when Matthew begins a review, he establishes a basic premise as to why the work is fundamentally flawed. As the premise continues to be referenced, he becomes more and more annoyed. While this drives home his point, it also makes the reviews more hilarious. He takes turns chewing out Lucas, the Wachowski Brothers and Ira Steven Behr, executive producer of Deep Space 9. “Come on!” Matthew pleads. “You’re better than this!” His confusion is our comedy.

Red Letter Media

I just recently was introduced to this critic, and all I can say is it needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated. Comprehensive, researched and merciless criticism of science fiction films is paired with an old man’s ramblings about pizza rolls and other less family-friendly subjects.

I don’t want to give away any more than that so, if you’ve the mind, head over in that direction. His Phantom Menace review stands out. It’s 70 minutes long, but worth every one.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Battlestar Galactica

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

[audio:http://www.blueinkalchemy.com/uploads/bsg.mp3]

In recent years, for one reason or another, many stories in speculative fiction have been ‘rebooted’. In most cases the ‘new’ versions of the stories have suffered from either not being very well executed, getting called out for disregarding the established histories and characterizations of the source material or both. Transformers, Star Wars and Flash Gordon appear to be the biggest offenders. It’s rare for a reboot or re-imagining to get the aforementioned sticking points right, or for a science fiction TV series to have a strong start. 2004’s Battlestar Galactica does both, and it began with a mini-series that is the subject of today’s review. The series stars Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Jamie Bamber, James Callis, Katee Sackhoff, Tricia Helfer, Grace Park, Michael Hogan, Tahmoh Penikett and Alessandro Juliani.

Courtesy Universal Pictures
As far as the characters go, to keep track of who’s frakin’ who, you might need a flowchart.

Battlestar Galactica originally aired back in 1978 and was ambitious for its time. Despite being accused of ripping off Star Wars, the series seemed more interested in borrowing the ‘Wagon Train to the stars’ notion from Star Trek. The million dollar budgets the show required per episode and the slowly declining quality of the stories – within the show’s only season – both contributed to its cancellation in 1979. The coffin seemed nailed pretty securely shut with Galactica 1980, a spin-off so bad some Galactica fans don’t even acknowledge its existence. Creator Glen A. Larson would recycle the look & feel of the show for Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century, but as far as Galactica was concerned, it seemed the journey had ended once and for all, until more than two decades after the last episode aired.

Ronald D. Moore, veteran writer & producer for Star Trek series The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, was approached by David Eick, who was having a little trouble getting a reboot of Battlestar Galactica off the ground. Ideas to restart or continue Galactica‘s story had been pitched by Tom DeSanto, Bryan Singer, and original series star Richard Hatch, but nothing had stuck. Ron & David not only constructed a mini-series that could stand on its own but could also serve as the launching point for a series on what was then called the Sci-Fi Channel, back before they re-branded themselves to gather more hits on Google since that’s what telling science fiction stories is all about. Anyway, the result of this reboot aired in 2004, and the response was overwhelming.

Courtesy Universal Pictures
Arguably the most badass museum piece in the known galaxy.

Among the Twelve Colonies of Kobol, the Cylons were created by man as servants and laborers. Eventually, they got a little sick and tired of shoveling coal and giving massages, so they took up arms against their creators. The war was bloody, and ended in a draw. The Cylons left to make their own way on worlds far from the colonies, and a space station was established for communication purposes. 40 years have passed since the armistice, and the Galactica, one of the oldest battlestars remaining in the Colonial fleet, is due for retirement as a museum. Her commander, William Adama (Edward James Olmos), is also something of a relic, wary of computer networks and maintaining discipline aboard his ship despite its age and somewhat antiquated design.

His paranoia’s somewhat justified, though, as the Cylons have evolved and can masquerade as humans. One of the humanoid models, Number Six (Tricia Helfer), has managed to infect the Colonial defense network thanks to her relationship with resident genius Gaius Baltar (James Callis). Baltar, rather than being a cartoonish malevolent hand-wringing mustache-twirling villain as he was in the 70s is, here, an unwitting dupe in the Cylon plan to eradicate mankind in a surprise nuclear attack. When the attack happens, there’s no warning and absolutely nobody is prepared. The Cylons not only nuke the hell out of all 12 colonies, they hack the networked systems of the Colonial warships, from the mighty battlestars to the Viper fightercraft. Only one ship is immune to this form of attack, and Galactica becomes the shepherd of a fugitive fleet containing the remnants of the human race, on the run from their would-be exterminators and held together by the hope that the mythical 13th colony exists out in the darkness of unexplored space – a colony known as Earth.

Courtesy Universal Pictures
Three hotter toasters you would be hard-pressed to find.

Overall, the mini-series was praised, and rightly so, for smart writing, good direction, multi-dimensional characters that gain our loyalty and sympathy relatively quickly, Bear McCreary’s haunting music and revitalizing an old premise in a new and interesting way. Any one of these aspects of the show is worthy of a full review in and of itself, so suffice it to say that all of them work together to create an experience that is, on the whole, absolutely astounding. It wasn’t without its detractors, however, most of whom said that this new vision of an old favorite had completely destroyed anything that had come before and was a travesty unworthy of the name of their beloved franchise. Wait. Does that seem familiar at all to anybody else? Gee, I wonder where I’ve heard that before

In any event, Battlestar Galactica is well worth the watching. The mini-series is the logical place to begin, and while it runs longer than most feature films, the time is not idly spent. Pick it up from Netflix, or Best Buy, or any place to you can pick it up – it’s definitely worth it. The series that follows is good on the whole, with some missteps here and there. I’ve been accused of universally loving this series and every single episode of it, but that really isn’t the case. Like all science fiction television series, it has episodes ranging from the very good to the very bad. I’ve played with the idea of doing episode reviews in the great tradition of sfdebris or Confused Matthew, but I wouldn’t want to waste everybody’s time.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

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