Sunday, January 15, 2012

The current lineup

Oh, blog. There you are. How are things? Me? The usual. Roller derby. Work. You know. But I have been watching some TV. Oh, and what TV? I'm glad you asked.

The big story is that I am embarrassingly too into Once Upon a Time. In fact, I have a date with that show later this evening. Listen, I haven't really been interested in this trend of supernatural/fantasy stuff lately (I'm looking at you, really, vampires and werewolves), but something made me want to give this show a try and I fell for it. Hard. I'm trying not to build up too many expectations that can't be fulfilled, but I am guilty of going down the rabbit hole, so to speak, regarding cast interviews, and I do a lot of lurking on the TWoP message board. (Okay, okay, I posted once or twice, too.)

I can let a lot slide, plot-wise, for character driven shows. The plot for this one promises to be quite convoluted and hopefully compelling, given it's LOST associated pedigree. But the characters are great, and the dual Enchanted Forest/Storybrooke format with two incarnations of the characters provides opportunities for appropriately over-the-top, scenery chewing grandiosity and some relatable and interesting semi-reality-based stuff, too.

What I really love about it is that the show is headed up mainly by three strong and recognizably different (from each other) women without being about stereotypically "woman" stories. It is fantasy, it is a little soapy and silly, it is dramatic, it has action, it has humor, and it is not filled with vapid youths. (Git offa my lawn, you kids! And take your vampires with you!)

I was a little concerned about how Disneyfied the source material would be (Hi, ABC!), but I like the balance the show has struck so far with including some of the darkness of the pre-Disney versions of folk and fairy tales and including the familiarity of the modern Disney versions. I think the premise, telling the stories theoretically behind the stories of the characters "we think we know" wouldn't work if it didn't refer to the versions most well-known in the mainstream, and like it or not, those are the Disney versions.

Other stuff I'm watching...

Lots o' Thursday comedies.

Other than Once Upon a Time (OUAT), my other obsession is Parks and Recreation. Amy Poehler is perfect. Adam Scott's Ben makes my geeky do-gooder nerd heart skip a beat every week. And the rest of the supporting characters are a delight.

This week's season premiere of 30 Rock was also promising. I'm glad to have it back.

I also am glad the new Up All Night has been moved to Thursdays for now. It may not be a show I necessarily make an appointment to see, but I enjoy catching up on it saved on my DVR on weekends when I'm folding my laundry or whatever. Christina Applegate and Will Arnett and Maya Rudolph deserve a spot in my rotation. I like how their take on parenting is goofy and sometimes a little clueless but never dumb or hapless or mean. They are the parents even those of us who are child-free still want to hang around with.

And I still enjoy The Big Bang Theory. I like that it laughs with its geeks just as much as it laughs at them. The characters have grown without blandly losing who they are, which is a trick I think a lot of shows can't pull off, comedy or drama. And who would've thought that Howard and Bernadette would become a model of modern relationships, what with her being reluctant to have kids and Howard easily going along with a compromise to be the stay-at-home-dad when the time comes for them to have kids, in the most recent episode?

As far as other dramas go, I think I only still watch Castle. It ably fills my need for a quirky procedural with strong characters and a healthy dose of UST. Nathan Fillion and Adam Scott may have to duke it out to be my TV boyfriends. (Who am I kidding? There's room on this couch for the three of us.)

I know I'm missing out on a lot of good TV. I still haven't caught up on Community or The Walking Dead, which both have been living on my DVR for two seasons. Speaking of supernatural fairytale dramas, I was going to give Grimm a try, too, but so far it has just been stacking up on the DVR, too. I haven't even tried Modern Family yet. Or The New Girl. All shows that have been recommended to me and I've read good things about. But a lady's gotta prioritize sometimes, you know? (And besides Walking Dead, these have all been broadcast network shows... I am in a sorry state when it comes to cable shows. At least I've caught up on Mad Men all the way in time for it to start back up in March.)

If only I could make a living playing roller derby and watching television, life might be perfect.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Achievement unlocked: Mad Men, season 1

Mad Men really is mesmerizing, and produced in this way that feels completely immersive.

The storytelling is deliberately paced, and to be honest, I was afraid I wouldn't have the patience or attention span for such a thing anymore. I was reminded of an interview on the radio, I think on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, a few years ago discussing how the show ER changed the pacing of storytelling on hour-long dramas (a genre now largely populated by procedurals and high-concept mysteries). Having watched ER for the majority of it's run, I hadn't considered that, as my television viewing was shaped by it in the same way it influenced the evolution of other shows. But I reflected on having recently watched earlier episodes of the show and how the first couple seasons, upon re-watch, sometimes felt plodding compared to later ER episodes, with their frenetic quick cuts and breathtaking action (and later, constant "peril of the week" ridiculosity, like tanks and falling helicopters and several gun-toting loons).

Mad Men doesn't overly exposit, but uses language beautifully and otherwise allows the atmosphere and environment to embellish the narrative. The perfectly constructed mid-century mise-en-scène (see, I learned something from my single undergraduate film studies class) and calculated character development demonstrate how powerful, and to use the term again, immersive, serial story telling can be through television as a medium used to its fullest potential.

Oh! The design! Oh! The ennui!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Hiatus Ends

So, it turns out that I never did use the summer hiatus to catch up on more television and post about it.

What I did accomplish was finishing graduate school (yay!) and taking up a new hobby. You may have heard of it... roller derby? (You may not have heard of it, or realized people actually do it). These two developments are not entirely unrelated. The former has given me more free time than I've had in over a year; the latter has taken up all that free time and more. Both developments have resulted in me being pretty happy lately, but -- gasp! -- I've been watching less TV.

With the new fall season having recently begun, I've had to watch most of my shows by catching up via DVR on the weekend. Right now, I'm mostly sticking with shows I was already watching. None of the new shows have seemed compelling enough for me to add them to my tv schedule (which was already messed up with the moving around of Survivor and The Big Bang Theory and whatnot). Basically, I'm very stubborn and set in my old ways. Harrumph. But, I do take sincere recommendations under advisement.

I have recently taken up (finally) watching a couple of very awesome, critically acclaimed, criminally short series: Freaks and Geeks and Firefly.

I know, I know. I *should* have seen these shows long ago. I wasn't avoiding them on purpose, exactly, or because I didn't believe they were as good as people said. I didn't catch them when they first were out, and they expired so quickly, and by the time I *could* see them I was kind of overwhelmed. I didn't want to know what I was missing.

IFC began showing Freaks and Geeks a couple of months ago, so I plugged it in to the DVR. And it really is as funny and touching and well-done as everyone said. I've never been one to look back on high school with the pining, golden glow of nostalgia, but man, does that show capture the awkwardness of high school, or what? I suppose a lot of people don't like to use TV as a medium for resurrecting feelings of high school angst without some kind of soapy sheen or glossy veneer, or else we'd have more Freaks and Geeks and My So-Called Life and less Gossip Girl and 90210.

And Firefly. What can I say about it? Also very much as awesome as everyone said. Now, a lot of geeky references to it are clearer to me. I'm sad I'm done watching it and have Serenity ready to go on my Netflix instant queue as soon as I publish this post, because then it's done. And that's not shiny.

ETA: Oh no. It has begun. Even though they take place about 150 years apart, in different versions of the universe, my mind has started mashing up Firefly with the Star Trek universe circa TNG in a little fantasy alternate universe crossover. Be very, very grateful that I have no interest in actually writing fanfic.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

More on "The End" of LOST

I did not anticipate that I'd spend as much time unpacking my reactions to "The End", the finale of LOST, as I've been doing the past day, considering I was not a devoted follower and had no business having any feelings at all about it.

But now that I've had a day to reflect beyond my non-reaction reaction yesterday, here are my thoughts.

(My rambling reaction, with content not suitable for the unspoiled, plus how it relates to The X-Files and other general TV theory, below).

It has taken me a day to have some thoughts coalesce. I spent some time wondering why I was so unsettled after the ending of Lost. After all, I wasn't a devoted fan, and I went into it with no expectations or requirements. But, nevertheless, when it ended, something just didn't feel right to me.

I was having a very basic discussion about it with Shanna, who is absolutely a devoted fan of the show, and I was glad that she was happy and satisfied with how it all turned out. I think your satisfaction level at the end depends entirely on what you needed to get out of it. This also goes into a topic I swear I always mean to write about, but haven't formed into something readable yet, and that is that there are two general typologies of TV viewers with different narrative priorities capturing their attention and driving their devotion to various shows: The Plot and The Characters. If you are a Plot Person, you wanted more answers from LOST by the end of the evening. You were driven to watch to unravel the mysteries and wanted to know how every puzzle piece fit, how each pixel lined up. If you are a Character Person, you wanted to have some kind of emotional resolution for the characters you've grown to love. Each puzzle piece didn't matter, there could be unclear or missing artifacts at detail level as long as there was a pleasing picture to see when you stood back. If you were strongly the former, you were probably the most disappointed. If you were the latter, you were probably very happy with how it all turned out. Of course, there are degrees in between.

I also believe it is true, as I said earlier, that this finale was not, and should not have been, designed for the non-devoted follower. Shanna always said LOST was not for the casual viewer, and I think that is very true. In order to fully enjoy it, you had to be willing to engage in discussion and long contemplation with fellow fans. You had to speculate and come up with satisfying theories to sustain you, which may have been validated or subverted by the finale, but if (as was largely the case with the evolution of the end of the series) you did not get definitive answers to those questions one way or another, you already had your own answers to fill in those gaps.

Perhaps the loss in viewers the show experienced in its midsection can be attributed to this. Not everyone who watches TV also engages in in-depth discussion about it. A lot of people, like one of my aunts, were intrigued by the show for the first couple of seasons, but could not sustain interest because they were not the type to hash it all out online. LOST was a communal experience, and much like one of the metaphors of the series, was not really an endeavor for those going it alone.

So, why was I uneasy with the ending? I can live in a universe where there are smoke monsters and moveable islands and glowing caves into the heart of the earth/humanity. I like the mystery, and I like answers, but I can live with the revelation that those really weren't the answers to be found in that universe. After all, I lived through X-Files fandom, where there were bees spreading alien conspiracy viruses and even when they "solved" some of the cases, it was often with a wink to the audience (ie "So, this isn't an alien or a miracle, it is a highly improbable yet technically possible scientific anomaly.... or is it?!?! [wink]). I can accept that Sunnydale and Bon Temps look much like the universe we live in but have vampires and whatnot.

For me, I think there is just something that didn't sit right with me about the nature of the not-on-the-island, not-exactly-purgatory Sidewaysverse. If this is some kind of mental/spiritual construct we see from Jack's point of view, with the exception of creating pseudo-resolution reunions for all the rest of the characters for the VIEWER, why did all the other reunion-awareness moments take place in Jack's Sideways Los Angeles when he was not involved in them? Why follow them away from Jack's awareness of them? Was it so HE had is own subconscious, third-person omniscient creation of happy endings for those particular people as well (filling in gaps and re-writing their endings to get to where he needed to be)? Was it always a shared construct, so that all of their spirits were participating in his version of the Sideways LA, and he in theirs? Did they all experience it as LA, or in, say, Jin or Sun's version, do they experience it as Korea, but with all the spirits/consciousnesses of all the others populating it the same way they did in Jack's version? Can they all simultaneously populate these multiple quasi-purgatories outside of time without that awareness moment?

(Oh, Lost. You've done to me what you did to your followers all along: given me more questions.)

But, when I think about it, this is the problem I've always had with metaphysical concepts. If we have souls, what is their nature apart from our bodies? If God exists, who created God? What is beyond the universe? What happens when we die?

It isn't a storytelling problem (although some could see it that way), it is my individual problem related to my relationship with matters of faith.

I can't know these things, and a long time ago I decided that those answers didn't matter and had no effect on how I live my daily life. Once I accepted that, I was able to let go of the anxiety I felt over spiritual matters and felt a little bit more at peace.

"The End" of LOST resurrected in me that feeling of unease with the unknowable, (and to be honest, I was feeling some resentment surrounding it, too) but now I can, to paraphrase Christian Shephard, let go and move on.


Another discussion about LOST I'd been following all season, to help me deconstruct a lot of stuff I was ill equipped to process and keep up with the season-long revelations, was the ongoing conversation over at the Slate Lost TV Club. The three writers are an interesting mix of those whose devotion was still strong going into the season and a little bit of disillusionment, with varying degrees of expectations, and a lot of insightful background knowledge.

As always, I have to point in the direction of Television Without Pity. Not the source I relied on for catching up on full recaps for LOST (though it is always high on my list for keeping up with many shows), but the recaplet for The End seemed like a good example of the kind of info-emotion-dump that most fans were going through in the wee hours after the series concluded.

ETA2: (also via Shanna) Jezebel has a great, satisfying wrap up (yes, with spoilers). I particularly like that it gets into specific, spiritual parallels of the non-Christian variety.


Other notes:
Clearly, the masterminds behind LOST learned from shows like The X-Files. Of course, there is the similarly long-arc, internal mythology-heavy, supernatural-mystery storytelling, but importantly The X-Files was a study in early internet-era fan response. The now ubiquitous term "shipper" referring to fans who want characters on a show to get together originated from X-Philes wishing for a Scully/Mulder union. At the time, shows foundered with how to tell their stories while receiving instant substantive feedback from their fans and critics. Shows are now very carefully navigating that tension between their professional storytelling knowledge, their creative instincts, and fan reaction.

Also, I'm guessing they learned how to END a story like this from the poorly handled ending of The X-Files, which foundered when there was not an agreed upon end point before they lost focus and alienated a lot of fans. It was frustrating and heartbreaking. Even though there is no way to please all fans, sometimes not even most of them, I think LOST made some choices and stuck with them, and that matters.

Monday, May 24, 2010

FINALE LOSTRAVAGANZA (now with spoilers)

This post is a safe harbor for discussion of the LOST series finale.
There may be SPOILERS.
You have been warned.

I don't have much to actually say about the end of LOST. I feel overwhelmingly unqualified to pass any kind of judgment on it, not being an established fan of the series. I will say that clearly, and absolutely correctly, the finale was not intended to satisfy the casual or late-coming viewer like myself.

Linda Holmes (as always) at NPR's Monkey See Blog has a great overview which sums up the impressions that I got from the finale.

I may add more to this post, including links to other recaps, reviews, summaries, and impressions, as I come across them.