Posts from the ‘tv’ Category

Reasons to be cheerful #5

Stevie Wonder once performed a six-minute Superstition jam, on Sesame Street.

The mind-blowing excellence of this needs no further explanation.

Love the wee hip kid with the fantastic ‘fro.

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Reasons to be Cheerful #4

Mnahmnah! (Doo doo do do do!)

Rings a near-subliminal bell, doesn’t it?

Classic Muppet Show nonsense, the plush hepcat scatter versus two punctilious whatever-the-hells, and coming out with the most stubborn earworm since ‘Tenser’, said the Tensor; ‘tension, apprehension, and dissension have begun’: two minutes of pure childhood.

Ironic,  in the Alanis Morissette sense of the word, that “Mah Nà Mah Nà” was originally famous in 1968, as the soundtrack to a steamy sauna scene in the film Svezia, inferno e paradiso. A much tamer version named “Mais Non, Mais Non” was recorded by Henri Salvador, famous both for recording the first French rock and roll singles and his somewhat paradoxical lifelong hatred of rock and roll. It’s since found its way into a variety of recordings, sadly including the official Worst Video Ever.

History lesson over. Now that the mnah mnah is good and stuck in your head, click here to clear it away…though the scratch might be worse than the itch.

Futurama, the return

Futurama: Rebirth

Futurama returned from a long hiatus and a series of gleefully canon-burning dvd-movies with the soothing burr of Hypno-toad, Bender’s voiceover assuring viewers there had been no gap:  “On the count of three, you will awaken feeling refreshed, as if Futurama  had never been canceled by idiots, then brought back by bigger idiots.”

I don’t usually review pure comedies (unless they’re offensively terrible), because I love them, and I can’t bear to dissect and thus kill what I love. Futurama has a special place in my pantheon of favorites, up there with The Simpsons, Wonderfalls, Firefly, and many other mandatory beloveds of rapidly aging pseudo-intellectual hispter douchebags. It beat them all, though, by intelligently lampooning hard scifi and actual science and philosophy amidst the sitcom buffoonery and many, many dick jokes. If I’m a sucker for anything, its geek in-jokes and any phrase that ends in “…shiny metal ass!”

The inner critical snob wonders if it isn’t better to leave the original seasons of Futurama as a perfectly imperfect whole, the AV nerd bullied out of the picture as often as possible by the big jock network but infinitely rewarding when taken on its own, socially malformed, D&D-loving, terms. Mainstream culture has moved on since the show premiered in 1999 (aie…has it ever…), and the ticklish postmodern combination of rarified booklearning with joyfully stupid pop-culture has been declared passé. By stupid people, I say, who want nothing more than laughs there’s no chance they’ll need explained to them. Snark is still on the menu, jah, and subculture elitism, in spades, but giddy intellectualism motivated purely by free-ranging interest? That’s just suspect. I re-watched Waking Life a couple of weeks ago for the first time since seeing it in Baltimore’s Charles Theatre as a recent grad, and was struck by terrorist gestures being referenced in positive liberal terms. I remember being dead bored in art classes, some paunchy 40ish professor exhorting us to get out there and be “cultural bombs,” that anti-consumerist revolutionary thought and art was nothing without the sincere efforts of Shiva-style destruction.

Now, when the cultural dialogue has been dominated by a nearly decade-old act of actual terrorism – can you imagine? While studying for a later degree, professors advised young artists to keep our heads down, politically, and focus on inoffensive commercial impact.

But I digress, per usual. The question in mind – can Futurama be Futurama in a era that doesn’t tolerate the tipping of genuine sacred cows?

Who am I kidding? I’m elated we’re getting more. I watched the hell out of the movies, despite their variable quality, and the nagging feeling I was seeing creator-produced fanfic. They were fun because they grabbed the chance to rip apart the world built up over four years, deconstructing deconstructions – with dick jokes. And I’ll love each new episode that comes out like minutes in a stay of execution.

The new episodes are promising, and chock full of memorable quotes. And, particularly in the pilot, they do their best without resorting to Patrick Duffy dreaming away an entire season. Futurama has had two definitive endings. Both identically tied up the Sam-and-Diane relationship of Leela and Fry, and the latter left the entire crew as hotly pursued fugitives diving into a mysterious wormhole. There’s no possibility of returning from that burned bridge to anything like the previous status quo without a ridiculous asspull.

And they did, but at least they hung a lampshade on it. It’s hard to hate an episode that morphs from Philip K Dick to Terminator in less than a minute. And the status, it’s somewhat quo. Fry and Leela seemed poised to venture into a relationship, potentially mining a new ore of scifi parody (how hard is it to maintain a LTR in a genre dominated by green alien babes?), but Leela’s shotgun fornication with her first-season one-night-stand appears to have derailed that. Maybe.

The lower budget shows at times, mostly in the background quality. There’s a lot of generic color swoops representing greenery on exotic planets. It’s not as visually fancy as the later seasons and movies.

The biggest change is the tonal dominance of good old-fashioned raunchy humor, from the repeated Leela and Amy partial nudity (…not that I’m complaining, mind you), to a two-headed goat vomiting from both ends, to a singing boil referencing an already stale pop-cultural phenomenon. Part of this is the move to cable, requiring less deft censor-dodging, and part is a mass cultural shift epitomised by the success of Sacha Baron Cohen, pure adolescent envelope-pushing. I’m a big fan of dick jokes and mind-bending sexual entendres (seriously, how did Bender and Amy even…nevermind), but they’re funnier when set off by humor that doesn’t depend solely on infantile shock. If I wanted a half hour of nothing but half-rate dada-esque offense, I’d watch Family Guy.

Which I do, actually. But Family Guy is never going to have a Heidegger joke, or reference Stephen Hawking, unless it’s to make fun of the man’s super-sweet wheelchair and speaking software.

So, to sum up: yay, more Futurama!  …please don’t let it suck, because I will love it regardless, and would like to have some respect for my critical faculties.

Lost Season 6: winnowing down the Candidates

The Candidate: KwonsLost Season 6: The Candidate

It’s more than a little sad that the most engaging moment of the last several episodes was the mutual death scene of two characters that have been entirely wasted for two seasons: Jin and Sun Kwon. While entire episodes have been devoted to the eternal romantic connection forged by unconsummated crushes, the only enduring marriage among characters was reduced to a pale reflection of the Desmond and Penny saga, leaving Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim little to do but tag along with B-storylines and spout “Have you seen my spouse?” in alternating episodes. Their long-awaited reunion consisted of a beachside embrace and a hurried conversation in a polar bear cage acknowledging that they’ve produced a beautiful child.

It’s wonderfully human that neither of them mention Ji Yeon, carefully, as they argue whether Jin should leave Sun to die alone in the rapidly filling submarine. The right answer is, of course, that Jin try to escape so that their daughter will potentially have one parent to raise her rather than her terrifying and immoral grandfather. But in this moment, neither wants to be without the other, and Jin’s sacrifice of his own life is flawed self-indulgence.

The two of them are losing their hard-earned future, but the fight for the island’s future is losing much more, particularly a woman who was determined to stand against her father’s selfish machinations to align with those who would control its mysterious and dangerous energy source. But who thinks of this as their linked hands come apart – certainly not the plot, which lost this thread two years ago. Sun was no longer a nascent force of big business but a forlorn wife, needing her husband to be a whole person.

A lot happens in this episode – far too much, really. The Kwons wrap up their attenuated  storyline in minutes, and die. Sayid suddenly redeems himself with a heroic sacrifice. Lapidus dies (possibly), practically off-camera and entirely unnoticed by the other survivors. Jack embraces the way of faith, spelling out the rules of engagement Smokey seems to be held to, and Sawyer refuses to play along with anything he doesn’t understand. Boom. More importantly, Smokey himself is finally confirmed to be evil (at least from the survivors’ point of view), as he is a very resentful babysitter saying anything that might manipulate the Candidates into killing themselves off with some handy C-4. After too many episodes of long green walks, separations, reunions, and seemingly portentous chats that are so often retconned as to be meaningless, this episode was felt rushed and almost slapdash, with promised character revelations whizzing past basely seen.

The entire series is feeling like narrative Calvinball, and the final revelation will be the rules we should have been playing along to the entire time.

protest or forget: the Beast Below

Protest: The Beast Below

Protest: The Beast Below

Once every five years everyone chooses to forget what they’ve learned. Democracy in action.

An often excellent episode, The Beast Below struggled to fit in some emotional bonding between this new Doctor and his companion (and the audience). Amy hasn’t had time to change out of her sleepwear before being thrown into an adventure of unimaginable horror – and nearly thrown out of her tenure as a companion after only a few minutes in the Tardis.

Part of the splendid set and character design, the Smilers had an image worthy of gracing a generation’s nightmares but didn’t really do much. They embody the police state the Doctor immediately sees – continuing the Sherlock Holmes-esque attention to detail that led him to a solution last week – but they are not the horror, and neither is the titular beast below who carries the remnants of the British, Welsh, and Northern Irish people on its back. The true monsters, as Rod Serling continually remonstrated, are us.

Except that’s not quite it. Every other country in the world, when the Earth was blasted by solar flares in the 29th century, was able to get it together to make colony ships and seek their new fortunes. Only England and its hangers-on – once the Scots abandoned them, bless their wise ginger heads – were left behind, listening to their children cry, and not building a fecking spaceship! Even though they were entirely capable of whipping up an airtight city/massive torture device, sans blueprints, once they’d “trapped” a beast capable of carrying one.

Perhaps they were waiting for Rupert Murdoch to do it for them, having voted against a 2% VAT raise that would have funded a publicly built ship?

No, the horror is specifically within “us” the British people, who cannot conceive of altruism. The Doctor (admiringly) describes the ship on first glance as an idea, as “Britain but metal.” They are searching for a new home, but bringing the worst of the old one with them, the paranoia and self-made horror that they give themselves the option not to face.

The episode not only captures a peculiarly self-loathing twist on The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas but the UK’s pre-election gestalt, being presented with two choices that are not choices at all, but allow one to stop contemplating the self-made nightmare we live in and – more importantly – accept that this is how it must be rather than seeking the hard work of possible solutions. It was the designers of the city who chose to feed “protesters and citizens of limited value” – including children who tested poorly – to the Beast. That can’t be blamed on the panic that would drive a people to trap and torture a benevolent creature who intended to rescue them from the beginning (and continues to do so even after centuries of torment). This is heart of darkness territory.

It’s deliberately written into the text, providing one of my favorite Doctor Who characters of the last few years: Liz Ten, a middle-aged, confident, compassionate Action Queen who seeks to truly serve her people even if it gets her sent to the Tower – historically not a good end for a monarch.

Liz Ten: The Beast Below

Liz Ten: The Beast Below

Even Liz Ten, lionhearted, dutiful Liz Ten, chooses every ten years to continue this nightmare. She was, in fact, one of its architects. What hope is there that the rest of us wouldn’t slam down that ‘Forget’ button in a heartbeat, facing the same choice?

The Doctor proves to carry this within himself as well, even before he realises this is more than another fun adventure. He judges his new companion rather harshly, without thinking – “Oh lovely, you’re a cheery one!” – and presents her with his own unfair binary decision. When Amy hesitates about running off into an unknown police state, on her own, in her pyjamas, he replies shortly: “This or Leadworth. What will Amy Pond choose?” And he’s gleeful when she meekly accepts: “Ha ha, gotcha!” It seems that neither a pep talk – perhaps including his new Number One Rule of “you don’t ever decide what I need to know,” on pain of immediate abandonment – nor a quick detour into the Tardis to get a pair of pants on was a viable option.

And he’s awfully quick to snap out “Nobody human has anything to say to me today!” after being able to at least face the horror, unlike everyone else, if not think through it. Fortunately, Amy out-Doctors the Doctor by seeing an obvious detail once his anti-human blinders were crazy-glued to his temples and saves both the poor beast and the vaguely intra-genocidal race on its back, and there’s hugging all round, and we can safely move on to the rest of the season without dissolving into blobs of self-loathing recrimination.

To sum up, pretty dark stuff for a children’s show. Pretty dark stuff for a post-watershed adult show, really. I like it, a lot, and I like that the hero-lead of an action show has the character depth to fuck up so badly and come back from it a little wiser.

…but is this Doctor Who?

14 years since fish custard: The Eleventh Hour

Amy Pond - The Eleventh Hour

Steven Moffat‘s first offering as head writer offers a series paradoxically both more emotionally mature and more a pure kid’s/kid-at-heart’s show. In this episode, at least, the eleventh doctor works well on both levels, providing a doctor and companion kids can identify with (craving fun and adventure while being continually denied this – and basic reliability – by adults) with more adult observations and irritations.

There’s a lot of imagination and dress-up here, without smugly highlighting how wonderful it all is.  Despite a weak, tacked-on opener (uck, I am so sick of Zone 1 London being fellated on my tv screen!), the Doctor quickly landed in a better place, a child’s room in a small village that demands a rich inner life to ward off stultifying boredom.  Little Amelia prays to Santa for help rather than God (apologising for waking him up at Easter) because Santa is a far more relatable and important figure to a 7-year-old than a Creator that’s never left a new PS3 game under the tree. There’s a little nostalgia porn here for adults, as Amelia is wearing an adorable and timeless nightgown and cardigan rather than a Hannah Montana branded top and short-shorts…or whatever tweens demanded in 1996. She’s ridiculously capable, unhesitatingly cooking up a variety of snacks for the Doctor – who immediately spits out all of them as disgusting and settles on an odd combination of two highly processed after-school snacks (acts most children could identify with).

Twelve years later, now-Amy presents first as a policewoman – foreshadowing her impressive (if not hugely intelligent) bravery in the face of the unknown – and then as someone who dresses up as a variety of adults for work. A nudge from the Doctor is all that’s required to make her briefly take up the authority inherent to her outfit, getting her in place to confront the monster of the week. This is the wonder of play in a nutshell – pretend to be something, and you become it, at least for the length of the game.

There’s a very adult look in Amy’s eyes, though. Having had those eyes opened – and quite possibly her young life ruined – by a brief glimpse of a fantastic other life, she spent her childhood first with an omnipresent imaginary friend and then with a series of psychiatrists who clearly felt play had become dangerous delusion. Seeing her childhood fantasy (and possibly adult – in exactly what context did she have Rory dress up as the Raggedy Doctor?) in the flesh leaves her with the expression of someone who fears they’ve suffered a psychotic break, and that that might not be such a bad thing. Ultimately, joining up with the Doctor is a flight from adult responsibility into fantasy – does she really expect the time traveller who’s repeatedly overshot his intended landing by years to hit so small a target as a few hours, and make it back in time to be married?

Lots of talk about the Companion and nearly none about the Doctor – hard to tell. It always takes a few episodes for the important facets of a new regeneration to be revealed. But so far, the new guy is more fun than silly or camp. He delegates both responsibility and credit. He’s quite clearly a child at heart but aware of the duties of a powerful adult, making sure to properly scare off the dangerous aliens, and dress correctly for the occasion as well. He’s also got a bit of  Sherlock Holmes thing going, able to take in a world of detail in a glance.

I like him. I like them both. Can’t wait to see where they take us.

the Eleventh Doctor/The Eleventh Hour

(screenshots nicked from the always-entertaining nostalgia_lj.)

Lost, Actually: Happily Ever After


symbolic Driveshaft/Dexter Stratton ring

Happily Ever After is another episode that offers possible big-picture answers, but filtered though one character’s heavily biased perspective. Here, they break out Desmond, Lost’s go-to guy for bringing the heart to lacklustre mini-arcs. Introduced in the second season premier, Desmond is a modern-day Odysseus, spending much of his adult life attempting to simultaneously return to his first love while running from himself – first into a monastery, then the military, and finally the seven seas. He was the rare Islander who got exactly his desired happy ending after much travail – helped along by a contemporary Penelope not content to simply wait at home when she can fund a worldwide search – so he deserves a little celebratory hyperbole where love is concerned.

Daniel and Charlie, however, don’t. And unlike Jacob and the Man in Black in Ab Aeterno, they don’t have a real reason to alter their conversation to suit their reluctant disciple’s mindset. They’re speaking from the heart…unfortunately. Bizarro-world Charlie is following the example of noted relationship guru Bella Swan, seeking near-death experiences in order to have visions of a lost love. Fellow musician Daniel is moved not to compose a Michelle for the 00s but spontaneously emit advanced quantum mechanics equations in his sleep (which is actually a adorable nerdlinger reaction to love at first sight) after spotting a pre-blind date Charlotte. Their Harlequin descriptions (“I’ve seen something real. I’ve seen the truth.”) resonate with Desmond when he has his own magnetically-induced visions and ultimately lead him to resume his role as the helpful visionary spanner in the works.

nerd love

nerd love

There was an awful lot of arc-y goodness in this episode, particularly the hint that Eloise and Charles Widmore are the architects or maintainers of the flash-sideways universe and quite possibly at odds in that venture, but the bulk of the character interactions gave lip service to the Power of Love. Only one kind of love, mind you – platonic or parental or any other sort of love has no place saving the world. No, long-term relationships are a person’s sole anchor (or Constant) in a real world, and the only motivation to return. (Sorry, Ji Yeon.)

Desmond, with his decade of love, loss, and reunion can be forgiven a few goggle-eyed flights of near-poetry, but can Daniel or Charlie’s mutual-but-unconsummated crushes with women they’ve known less than three months really be called “spectacular, consciousness-altering love”? It’s unfair to expect and adult audience the show has often forced to educate themselves in classical philosophy and modern quantum physics to roll with that.

After all, that insane giddiness only lasts during a few weeks of infatuation in any ultimately functional relationship. Then, the connection is primarily fantasy, the unreasonable expectation that this time, this person will fulfill every desire, and it naturally doesn’t last beyond actually getting to know each other. Love isn’t something like an eternal first shot of heroin, wiping away all problems and wrapping both in superficial bliss, despite a total lack of specific connection (sorry, 99% of fanfiction.net). Good long-term relationships are better defined as things that make most aspects of your life happier and more interesting, and provides at least a distraction from the rest. And that’s absolutely brilliant.

I think, as a character, Desmond certainly gets that. I hope the writers do as well (although the Jack/Kate/Sawyer romantic plot tumor doesn’t give me a lot of hope).

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