Archive for the ‘TV/Movies’ Category

A Naked Comparison …

August 26, 2016

So, recently I’ve started watching Star Trek TOS, and also have been listening to the SF Debris videos of Star Trek TNG. In doing so, I noticed something interesting about the first season TOS episode “The Naked Time” when compared to the first season TNG episode “The Naked Now”, which might explain why the first season of TOS is much more highly regarded than the first season of TNG. “The Naked Now” is an explicit revisiting of “The Naked Time”, and both of them thus involve the same basic idea: a strange, water-based disease or whatever causes the crews of both ships to, essentially, act drunk. But the “Naked” in the TOS title seems to refer to the people being emotionally “naked”, living out and exposing their deepest desires and fears, while in TNG they seemed to interpret that to mean getting naked and having lots and lots of sex.

In “The Naked Time”, the first person who is infected starts acting oddly not by wanting to have sex with everyone or by acting, well, drunk, but instead by going on about how deadly space is and building up a healthy head of paranoia about that. Sulu then engages in his dream of being a swashbuckling hero. Riley tries to achieve his dream of being an Irish Lord ruling his own little fiefdom. Christine Chapel confesses her love for Spock. Spock is overcome by emotion and talks about the difficulties of that. And finally Kirk talks about the pressures of command and what that might cost him. The inner issues dominate, with their impacts on the plot and the story generally side events to getting that across. This is great because it gives us some extra insight into the characters, and reveals some things about them that will become major parts of their characters, but were things that we hadn’t seen beforehand.

In contrast, in “The Naked Now” any inner examinations are limited, and only there to serve either the plot or to give them an excuse to chase sex. Geordi talks briefly about his issues with having to see through the VISOR and not having “real” sight, but that’s only there to give him an excuse to touch Tasha and as a way for Crusher to see that the original formula isn’t working. Tasha briefly talks about her childhood in a way that hints that because her childhood was so bad she now tries to seek out pleasurable experiences … but that’s mostly used as a way to justify her screwing anything that moves. Data could be seen as making a point about his desire to be human, but he doesn’t really make that clear and we already knew that. Troi talks about the emotions overwhelming her, but again that just turns into a way to express sexual desire for Riker, which we already knew was there. Crusher hints at attraction with Picard, and he for her, but again that’s not explored as a hidden and secret desire that they might feel shame for, but is just used as an excuse to get them to act very, very oddly and in a way that’s aimed at humour (and I found it hilarious that Crusher uses as her example of how it causes bad judgement that she finds him very attractive. Not that she wants to have sex with him at the wrong time, but literally that right now she finds him attractive). While TNG desperately needed us to get some idea of the characters and what they were like, it didn’t take this opportunity to do that.

Even the destruction threat is inferior. Sure, Riley’s plan was a bit stupid, but at least there’s a logic to it: if he controls engineering, he controls the ship, and then can, at least to that point, enforce his will on them. Sure, he’ll be caught eventually and sure, no one has to listen to him, but someone with impaired judgement might well decide that’s worth a shot. On TNG, we have Wesley building a force field and, worse, the assistant Chief Engineer … playing with the control chips as if they were building blocks, which is clearly what he’s always wanted to do, deep down. At least he wasn’t trying to have sex with them.

TOS used this plot to reveal things about its characters, while TNG used this as an excuse to make them act like idiots. This goes a long way towards explaining why first season TOS is so good, and first season TNG … not.

(Also, as a final aside, it’s interesting that both, deliberately or not, kept the idea that if someone needed to concentrate, the effects seemed to diminish. When Kirk brings Spock around and Spock starts concentrating on how to come up with the formula to restart the engines, he seems unaffected. In TNG, Wesley lampshades that by commenting on how hard it was to think, and Data seems less affected when he is trying to reinsert the control chips, and despite Riker seemingly getting it early he isn’t affected at all in the episode, and only shows some signs when all he can do is sit there and see if Data and Wesley can save the ship. It’s an interesting element that’s easy to overlook.)

(Totally Unfair) Thoughts on “The X-Files”

July 11, 2016

So, I recently saw a complete edition release of “The X-Files” on Blu-Ray, and thought that I really, really should watch it, and the price was reasonable (in the 1 to 2 dollar per hour range), which only got better when I noticed someone’s gripe that they were actually cheaper if you bought them separately instead of in the complete edition. So, I bought all nine seasons, and watched them all. And … I didn’t like the show.

Now, my comments are this are, as stated above, totally unfair because I didn’t just watch the show, but instead watched it while doing other things, including playing “Dragon Age: Inquisition”. This means that there were a number of episodes that I was only half-paying attention to it. It’s a valid criticism to say that X-Files is an arc show and that if you don’t pay attention you’re going to miss a lot. Fair enough. It’s possible that one of the reasons, for example, that I found that the show was acting as if I should care more about what was happening to the agents than I really did was because I didn’t have in my head all of the backstory and emotional baggage that the previous episodes had indeed managed to build up if I’d only been paying attention to it.

But I don’t think this is a sufficient explanation, because typically in arc shows the problem people have with it is that they don’t know what’s going on and so get lost and frustrated. For the most part, I never felt that way. I always felt that I at least roughly knew what was going on, but typically didn’t care or was bored or annoyed by what was going on. Sure, paying more attention might have made me care more, but on the flip side the show didn’t make me want to look up and pay attention more often either, like better shows do. So there seems to be more to it than that.

For the most part, it’s my opinion that the very best episodes, for me, were the ones that were, in fact, simple joke episodes, where they made everything be ridiculous and you’re supposed to roll your eyes at what they’re doing. Any time they attempted to mix the two, however, the episodes were, in fact, utter disasters. And the “straight” episodes just weren’t as good. Now, they were dealing with paranormal things and so things that would strike us as being ridiculous, and so maybe that was just hard to pull off, so that when they embraced the madness, it all worked, but when they didn’t that ridiculousness dragged everything down. Sure, but there are a lot of shows that manage to make that work. Doctor Who is a prime example of a show that manages to embrace the insanity and how crazy that’s all going to look while still managing to build in deep emotional scenes, drama and story arcs without looking out of place. And then we also have shows like Buffy, Angel and Smallville that manage to do the same. So what is it about X-Files that makes it come up so short for me?

Well, the first thing is that I think the show takes itself too seriously. It seems to trying for these sorts of serious and dramatic scenes so much that it becomes jarring when they step out of that. All of the other shows that I’ve mentioned deliberately and consistently include humour, and the drama seems to grow organically from the characters themselves. When they get totally serious, things are bad, and if they joke when they shouldn’t, the others point it out. Arguably, Mulder could have managed to pull this off with his snark, but he definitely took the X-Files very, very seriously, and Scully was from the start set up to be a serious character. In short, in a lot of ways they were both straight persons, which made the humour seem out of place when they acted as the goofball. Sure, the snark itself worked — although it worked best when both Scully and Mulder snarked, as when only Mulder snarked, especially at Scully, it seemed more like him being a jerk and her long-suffering — but the comedy relief didn’t. And good comedy relief is necessary in good drama to relieve the tension, otherwise it becomes overwhelming.

Additionally, the show itself seems to be overly dramatic, aiming at creating massively dramatic scenes that came across as forced, so much so that we started looking for the punchline, or else felt that they were overreacting (and possibly overacting). The end of “Jump the Shark” is a prime example of this, with Scully, of all people, commenting on how much The Lone Gunmen had meant to her in an overly dramatic fashion, so much so that I was looking for it to be a fake or a hallucination on the part of the Gunmen (it wasn’t). But there were a number of other scenes where the drama was stretched and expanded so much that it was almost self-parody. This made the actual self-parody harder to detect and so it didn’t come across; I was wondering if it was a joke or if it was serious.

Also, I think they had issues with the setting. In all of the other shows, at least the principles knew what was going on, and that these things were real, while others may not have. But with Scully being the skeptic for most of the show, there was always someone directly involved who kept pointing out other reasonable explanations, that just happened to be wrong. This always, then, tied it in that this was our world and so kept the paranormal and supernatural events as odd events and not as things that were normal but that others didn’t see. This, then, kept reminding us how absurd this all was and so broke the suspension of disbelief, which then only got worse when some of the things really were ridiculous. The show encouraged us to question and assess the rationality of the explanations which then only meant that we noticed the plot holes. And there were a number of plot holes.

The result is a show that you can’t take seriously but you can’t laugh that, that is desperately trying to get you to take it seriously. That’s not a recipe for entertaining viewing.

Some more general thoughts on the show:

Gillian Anderson’s acting in the first season is really stilted and artificial, but she gets better after that … up until they make Scully an angry, tough chick when she gets pregnant and has a child in the later seasons, which really didn’t seem to fit.

The Lone Gunmen, in general, were entertaining, at least in small doses.

At one point at the end of Season 5, I was getting into the show, and starting to like it. I was even interested in the alien conspiracy, which hadn’t happened up to that point. Then the next season, quite early, started with the ridiculous concept of Mulder switching bodies with that really annoying guy — a concept that they dragged out over two episodes when the concept itself barely supported one — and then followed that with the utterly ridiculous episode with the ghosts at Christmas trying to get Mulder and Scully to shoot each other and failing … somehow, and the effect was ruined. At that point, I not only wasn’t really enjoying it anymore, but was in fact actively mocking it and even hating it. The show never recovered from that, and it took force of will for me to completely the series.

As the show went on, it did indeed become more unreasonable that Scully would still be skeptical of the paranormal after all she’d seen. They lampshaded it, but missed, in my opinion, a great way to resolve it. The big issue was that Mulder was always right with his intuitive leaps, and Scully was always wrong. What they needed to do was make it so that sometimes the right explanation really was the scientific one, which then could justify Scully taking an Occam’s Razor approach and saying that she’s sticking with the explanations that have actually happened elsewhere before jumping to the completely new explanation. If they didn’t want to do that in actual episodes because they felt it might undermine the show or Mulder, all they needed was for her to reply to that, for Mulder to ask when those explanations have ever worked, and for Scully to start listing off cases — that happened off-screen — where it did. This then would make the relationship seem less antagonistic and more sensible, leading to an explanation for why the X-Files needed to be restored by pointing out that the combination of Mulder’s intuition and Scully’s scientific approach have led to more resolutions — even if not arrests — than happened in all the years before that. Of course, then they couldn’t have argued 9 that Doggett needed to stay because he was better at it than they were (which was dumb in an of itself).

Season 8, with the departure of Mulder, didn’t work, because Doggett couldn’t capture Scully’s skepticism, and Scully couldn’t capture Mulder’s intuition. Scully may have come to believe, but unlike Mulder she had no real reason to want to believe … and many reasons to want to not believe. Thus, the whole dynamic was thrown out of whack, which went very badly. Also, making Doggett the superior in the relationship worked out really badly considering how experienced Scully was; they had to make her stupid and risk-taking just to make him into the person who did things right. Season 9 worked better but Scully’s constant presence worked against the dynamic of Reyes and Doggett, which seemed to me to work but needed more time to develop.

So, the final question: Would I watch this again? If this was 10 years ago, when I had less to watch, I probably would give it another chance. But I have too many things to watch to give this another chance, at least not for a long, long time. I’d rather watch Farscape again than watch this, which is not a good thing for X-Files. Overall, I was very disappointed in the show.

Quick Bonus Post on the new Ghostbusters Movie …

July 11, 2016

So, I’ve seen a number of trailers for the new Ghostbusters movie, and my reaction to all of them has been consistent: Where are the jokes?

Also, the new Star Trek movie looks dreadful. This all makes me very glad that I don’t go to movie theaters anymore.

The New Ghostbusters’ Ditzy Secretary …

May 6, 2016

So, Dave Futrelle over at “We Hunted the Mammoth” is taking a look at the reaction to a recently released clip from the new “Ghostbusters” movie. I haven’t watched the clip myself, but from what Futrelle says the clip essentially shows the replacement for Janine Melnitz from the original movies. Since the powers-that-be decided to flip the gender roles and make all of the new ghostbusters women — purportedly in the name of equal representation for men and women, which is a very odd way to go about that — it seems that they also decided to gender flip Janine and make the character male, played by Chris Hemsworth (of Thor fame and probably some other fame as well, but that’s the one I’ve seen). However, they also seem to have made the character essentially decorative; he’s portrayed as attractive but pretty much incompetent at his job. The implication from this is that he was hired for his looks and not his skills, and given that people on the Internet (Futrelle assumes that they are all or are at least mostly men) are protesting. Since Futrelle’s site is one dedicated to mocking MRAs and the like, Futrelle mocks this, with the overall impression that, well, this is no big deal and nothing to complain about.

There are, however, a number of problems with it that you don’t have to be opposing feminism to see (although, for one of them, it helps).

The first issue for me is this: I really liked the Janine character, especially with how she evolved in the “The Real Ghostbusters” animated series. Her cynical attitude really did work, and gave something to ground Ray’s and Egon’s fascination with ghosts while also providing a foil for Peter, and also potentially for someone for Winston to relate to. Was she used that way in the movies most of the time? No, but her cynical approach definitely did shine through (just read the quotes from her on IMDB for that). Most importantly, she was portrayed as someone who was very competent at her job, if snarky. She wasn’t hired for her looks, but for her skills, and she had them. This, then, is not a replacement for that character. This is replacing a superior stereotypical secretary with an inferior stereotypical secretary. Making the character male but equally snarky might have worked, but the character that I liked is now completely and totally gone. And I can’t see any good reason to go this route, especially considering how problematic this stereotype is. The only reason I can think of is for the writers to take a shot at the stereotype itself … but, as I’ve said before, when works sacrifice entertainment for message they end up, well, sucking. So, this is not promising.

The second issue is what this choice implies: that whomever was doing the hiring chose this person on the basis of their looks rather than their skills. This … is not a good way to hire someone. At the very least, the only reason the person still has a job is their looks. So … which of the Ghostbusters is the one who hires on the basis of looks rather than ability? Which of them is that shallow? Is it all of them? Are they all that sort of person?

See, in the original movie you could get away with that by simply having Venkeman hire the secretary, because as was established early that was totally in character for him. But the key thing here is that that part of his personality was the big flaw in his personality. If I recall correctly, he originally goes with Dana because she’s attractive and he wants to hit on her, but at the end they only at least somewhat get together because he overcomes that and starts to actually care about people and about the job. He moves from being seen, at least, as nothing more than a scam artist to someone who is willing to die to save the city. He gets redeemed.

Now, the original movie didn’t do this. But if it had, Ray and Egon would have protested at least as soon as the secretary screwed up something important, and either the secretary would have had to prove that she had a role, or Peter would have had to admit that it was a bad idea and then accept hiring someone more competent. In fact, I strongly suspect that there was an episode of “The Real Ghostbusters” where Janine quit due to not being appreciated, Peter hires or tries to hire someone who was just hot, and at the end they all realize that they really miss — and need — Janine after all. I could be wrong about that one, but it does sound like something that a cartoon would do.

So, does this happen in the movie? Or do all of the Ghostbusters decide that when women objectify its female empowerment and so not really bad at all? So, are all of them in favour of hiring on the basis of looks in a movie that pretty much is trying to subvert that notion?

Which leads to the third issue, which is exactly that, and something that some of the commenters that Futrelle mocks mention: this movie, as near as I can tell, is about at least trying to present more equality and less sexism than Hollywood movie typically do. Yes, Dave, it’s a movie about ghostbusters, but it’s also a movie going out of its way to be “inclusive”. Having a man who is objectified doesn’t, in fact, do that, and if feminists — like you, Dave — don’t stand up and say that objectifying a character and hiring on the basis of looks as opposed to on the basis of ability is bad no matter what the gender of the people doing it and the person it’s being done to then you only further the stereotype that feminism is about women, and not about equality at all.

Now, Futrelle tries to defend it:

Sometimes comedy plays with stereotypes and is funny. Sometimes it just reinforces stereotypes and while this is often not so great, comedically or otherwise, sometimes it can actually be funny too.

For comedic actors, the best roles are often the ones in which they make themselves look like the biggest idiots. Who was the most idiotic character on I Love Lucy? (HINT: Her name is in the title.) Who was the star in I Love Lucy? (HINT: Her name is also in the title. Because it’s the same person.)

Anyway, dudes, relax just a teensy weensy bit. Men are so overrepresented in movies these days, as protagonists and as supporting characters, that it’s still kind of seen as a big deal if two women characters in a feature film have even a single scene in which they actually talk to one another about anything other than a man. And lots of movies fail that seemingly rudimentary test.

And so, if you can’t stand Chris Hemsworth taking a comedic turn as an inept administrative assistant, if the very thought of it makes you mad or sad, it’s possible that your head is so far up your own ass that, well, I mean, that can’t be very enjoyable, your head up in there. It’s sort of disgusting to think about, really.

Anyway, angry Ghostbusters-hating dudes, if you’re concerned about people thinking men are a bunch of ridiculous idiots, one excellent way to fight this perception is to STOP ACTING LIKE A BUNCH OF RIDICULOUS IDIOTS.

There’s probably an argument in there, if you turn it sideways and do the standard philosophical charity thing where you build in the arguments that you’re sure they were trying to make/would have made. Of course, even interpreting this charitably, the arguments are all really, really bad:

1) He can be arguing that, hey, Hemsworth looks like an idiot, but, hey, that’s comedy, right? Well, except that if we go back to the original Ghostbusters, the comedy did indeed come from them acting like idiots — or at least stupid and/or odd — and yet none of them were completely incompetent. Peter, for someone with a PhD, knew very little about the field that he supposedly was an expert in. Ray was seen, especially in the cartoon, as being overly enthusiastic about this. Egon was the typical “head for science, and not for anything else” scientist character. Looking like an idiot does not, in fact, require you to be an idiot. It especially doesn’t require you to be an idiot with the clear implication that the only reason you still have a job is because you’re hot. You’d think Futrelle would, you know, want to discourage that sort of presentation more.

2) He could be arguing that men are presented in so many different roles that having one idiot isn’t going to hurt them. Which is true, but also rather odd since, well, idiot male characters have existed for a long, long time now and will continue to exist. The protest is not about having an idiot male character. The protest is that the character is a male version of one of the stereotypes that feminists most hate. Just because it happens to be a man this time doesn’t mean that presenting someone hired for their looks is a good thing. And it also removes a stronger female character from the roster. Why would he think that good?

And the supreme irony is that he finishes thusly:

The only thing about the Ghostbusters clip that really bugs me is that Sony decided to release it on Administrative Professionals Day. And that’s really kind of patronizing as hell. If most film heroes were Administrative Professionals that would be one thing, but this, not so cool.

Now, we have lots and lots of representations of Administrative Professionals who are competent that their job, so there is indeed plenty of representation of competent APs, so that can’t be the objection here. No, the objection must be about presenting the worst possible stereotype, of the AP hired for their looks and who is utterly incompetent at the job. Which, yes, is something that might annoy APs on the day dedicated to them. But that’s the stereotype that Futrelle is asking people to lighten up about. Hmmmmm.

How I Would Have Done “The Force Awakens”

May 2, 2016

So, as promised, I’m going to post a rough, semi-thought-out idea of how I’d have done “The Force Awakens’ that is, in my opinion, much better than what we got. I’m not putting a lot of thought and polish into this, so some things won’t work, and you won’t really get full, final-movie-quality dialogue. So there will be things that won’t work and things that will work. Also, I’m going to borrow from the EU as I see fit to make things work, and indeed am going to write this to insert the elements that I want to see. You may not share my opinions on that.

So, let us begin:

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Thoughts on “The Force Awakens”

April 25, 2016

So, I was out at Walmart looking for various things, and stopped by the Electronics department to look for USB drives, and saw the Blu-Ray/DVD Collectors Edition of “The Force Awakens” at what for me was a reasonable price. Now, I had heard lots about it, but hadn’t seen it, and so felt some trepidation about buying it … but I figured I’d buy it anyway, so decided, hey, why not?

Now, I’m not the ideal person to review it because I already knew pretty much all of the story before going in, so I won’t be surprised at any of the shocking plot points. On the other hand, in a way that makes me a more ideal person to review it because I can focus more on how that was presented rather than just on what’s happening. So, call it a wash, mostly.

So, what’s my overall impression of the movie? I thought it was hollow.

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What I Like (and Dislike) About “What I Like About You”

March 30, 2016

So, I’ve been watching an old show called “What I Like About You”, starring Amanda Bynes and Jennie Garth as two sisters (Holly and Val) who end up sharing an apartment in New York — Val’s — after their father gets another promotion that requires him to move to Japan, and Holly doesn’t want to go. The most consistent sidekick is Gary, a friend of Holly’s who starts with a crush on Val but that, thankfully, gets dropped by about mid-way through the first season. The first season starts with a boyfriend for Val, Jeff, who gets dropped at the end of the first season.

The underlying premise, at least at the start, is the fact that Holly and Val are very different people who now have to live together again. Holly is spontaneous and free-spirited and fun-loving, while Val is organized and serious. The clashes in their personalities, especially since Val has to be the parent figure here, drives most of the plots in the first few seasons, but this fades in the later seasons, although Val is still portrayed as being uptight and serious despite being far less so in the later seasons.

I’ve also found that the pace of the show is very fast, so much so that if I try to read while watching it — as I’m prone to doing — means that I end up missing stuff (which is hampering my re-reading of “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”). I also find that, other than in the pilot, it tends to stay away from simple stable comedy plots where Holly does something that she shouldn’t and the whole episode is spent following her trying to avoid having Val find out about it. In fact, in one episode she sneaks off to a concert without telling her system, and the humour is entirely driven by all the problems Holly has along the way: they get a flat tire, the tire rolls away, Val and Jeff catch up to her, the car rolls away, and so on. They revert to the staple jokes more in the later seasons, but still much of the humour is driven by the incidentals and not as much by trying to hide what’s going on.

As we get past the first season, the cast of characters increases, to include a new friend for Holly, and a number of potential boyfriends, while Val loses her steady boyfriend but picks up a friend. And this gets into something that is both good and bad, because while I really like Holly’s friend Tina and think she works quite well in that role, I find Val’s friend Lauren very, very annoying. There’s really no reason for Val to be friends with Lauren, who is selfish, self-centered, and at least amoral. Tina’s worst qualities, on the other hand, are generally her snarkiness and how she doesn’t think things through, and she shares with Lauren a propensity for falling for the wrong guy and being far more promiscuous than Holly. Unfortunately, Tina gets underused; she doesn’t even typically get the “competing with Holly for the same guys” plot that Lauren gets. Which is sad, because one of the things about Tina that makes her work so well is that that sort of thing could work, as given the actresses involved it’d be perfectly reasonable to think that someone might find Tina more attractive than Holly, while Lauren just isn’t as attractive as Val is. So what happens is that Tina, a much more interesting character, gets swamped in the big crowd of Holly’s friends and boyfriends, while Lauren gets a big role in Val’s life but is mostly annoying there, overly competitive and incompetent in business and not really a supportive friend. While Tina ended up using her looks to get ahead at work in one episode, the only way Lauren could have been any kind of competition for Val — which is how they met — is by using her looks. The Tina character, I think, would have worked better as Val’s friend than as Holly’s.

Also, the show seems to be arguing for the idea that, when it comes to relationships, all women like bad boys. For Holly, both Henry and Ben are considered to be exceptionally nice guys, which is even commented on in the show … but Holly will end up with the more attractive but more of a jerk Vince. For Val, Jeff isn’t bad — if a bit of a doofus — but after that they try to set her up with Peter who she’s somehow attracted despite him being a massive jerkass, and then they turn Rick into a bit of a jerk as he sees his ex-fiance without telling her (and marries the ex later), and even when Vic returns — who was at least reasonably nice — he comes on so strong after their spontaneous wedding that he really does come across as a jerk … and Val ends up with him to end the series.

Also, by the end of the series, while the humour is still entertaining, I’m getting heartily sick of Holly’s boyfriend issues. It … just … never … ends.

That being said, overall I like the show. Season 4 is probably the worst season I’ve seen so far (and I’m only about 4 episodes in!) but it keeps me relatively entertained and I even laugh on occasion. It was definitely worth revisiting.

Thoughts on “The 13 Ghost of Scooby-Doo”

March 7, 2016

So, when I had cable a few years back, “Teletoon” used to show episodes of “The 13 Ghost of Scooby-Doo” arpund Hallowe’en. Unfortunately, it ran at a time when I couldn’t reliably watch it, so I only got to see a few episodes of it. Now I have access to it through Shomi, and so decided to watch it. And, for a Scooby-Doo show, it’s pretty good. And much better than another show that I can watch through Shomi, “What’s New Scooby-Doo?”

The show, in concept, is a dramatic shift from the typical Scooby-Doo show, to its credit. It’s a comedy-horror cartoon as opposed to a mystery cartoon, and the ghosts are actually real. The basic premise is that the gang — which consists of Daphne, Shaggy, Scooby, and Scrappy — get lost and end up in the Himalayas, where a Chest of Demons is kept which contains 13 very evil ghosts. Two incompetent and unintelligent ghosts manage to trick Shaggy and Scooby into opening the chest, letting the ghosts out. Because they were the ones that let the ghosts out, the warlock Vincent Van Ghoul says that they’re the only ones who can return them to the chest, which sets them off on their journey, with a young con artist Flim-Flam in tow and Vincent Van Ghoul in an advisory role.

One of the best things about this series is what it does for Daphne. Not only does she have a more appealing character model, she actually has a role here, which she didn’t in “What’s New Scooby-Doo?”. Flim-Flam invents schemes, Vincent Van Ghoul provides the sage advice and mysticism, Scrappy provides the bravado, and Shaggy and Scooby provide the comic relief, so this means that Daphne gets to play the “One Sane Person” role, and perhaps “Team Mother”. Compare that to “What’s New Scooby-Doo?”, where Velma provides the plans, Scooby and Shaggy provide the comic relief and … there’s really nothing more for Daphne to do, except be vapid. And when they give her stuff to do, it leaves Freddy with nothing to do. Here, on the other hand, she’s an important character without being pigeon-holed into a specific role. She can figure things out if Vincent Van Ghoul is unavailable — as he has to be at times to avoid making things too easy — and can make plans, and for the most part keeps the team moving.

Part of the reason this works is that you don’t need a specific reasoner in this show, because the show is about capturing ghosts, not about solving a mystery. So, in general, they’ll get a mission with most of the parameters filled in, and then have to figure out how to capture that ghost. So there isn’t a lot of reasoning to do, other than with specific details and plans.

This also gives the show a lot more freedom. By the second season of “What’s New Scooby-Doo?”, even the characters were lampshading the trite and repetitive nature of the show, which was forced on it because of the focus on solving a mystery, and specifically how they solved mysteries. Here, each ghost can have a unique approach, and that gives the show the ability to do a wide variety of things. They had episodes where they were in a horror movie, where they were in comic strips, and where they were facing a “It’s a Wonderful Life” situation for Scooby. It also let them mess with the format, dropping musical numbers in the middle — instead of relying on the chase scene with a background musical score — and doing all sorts of pop culture references and parodies without it feeling like a deviation from the structure of the show. In fact, the show very much comes across as throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks. Not all of it works, but enough of it does that the show is pretty entertaining.

I also have to mention that Vincent Van Ghoul is played by Vincent Price. It at least one episode, he really seems to be having fun with the role … but then this wouldn’t be the first time he was involved with a horror parody.

“The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo” only lasted one season, and its premise limited how long it could go without seeming stupid (did they let the ghosts out again). But it was a good show, and was a good use of the property.

Final Thoughts on “Dallas”

February 29, 2016

So, I did manage to finish all 14 seasons of “Dallas”, and did, in fact, enjoy it for the most part. Season 14 was by far the weakest season, mostly because there weren’t any interesting foils for J.R., with all of his opponents either being pathetic, annoying, both, or not at all any kind of threat to him. A big part of this was because of how Bobby was pretty much excluded from any kind of interesting rivalry with J.R., and it seems to me that all of the best fights in that show were either when Bobby went after J.R., or when the Ewing family all rallied together against a bigger threat. In Season 14, the clashes between Bobby and J.R. weren’t clashes, but were simply the result of Bobby withdrawing after the death of his latest wife, and that left Bobby completely outside of any battles that J.R. might have had, if any of those battling J.R. were in any way credible as threats. So there wasn’t any really interesting clash.

As for J.R. himself, I’m wondering if he really counts as a villain. Sure, he was manipulative and, well, pretty much self-centered and dishonest, but for the most part, particularly towards the end, he is shown to actually care about his family and is pretty much willing to do anything for them. It’s even reasonable to conclude that most of the slimier actions that he takes in service of Ewing Oil is to build up his father’s legacy and as an attempt to prove himself to Jock, who himself was ruthless when he needed to be. As others have noted, Bobby gained Jock’s loyalty, and J.R. gained Jock’s ruthlessness. There are also plenty of moments when he really looks like he’s trying to change — particularly with Sue Ellen at times and with Cally — and it’s the distrust of other people that ends up ruining that, as they jump to the conclusion that he’s going back to his cheating and dirty ways when he actually hasn’t. The worse case is with Cally as she lies to him and tells him that she slept with someone since she was told that he had slept with someone, when he hadn’t, and it’s only after that that he sleeps with someone to get an advantage in regaining Ewing Oil. So in those cases he can be seen as a victim, both of his reputation and of others … and a prime example of why reputation is so important, as for the most part people don’t like to deal with him unless Bobby’s there to back up the veracity of his claims.

J.R. is a major antagonist in a lot of storylines, but he faces a lot of antagonists and a lot of the storylines end up with him as essentially the protagonist. Ultimately, as I’ve already said, the best storylines are the ones that involve Bobby as protagonist facing off with J.R. as antagonist, or alternatively with the Ewings united against a common threat.

Other notes:

April Stevens is my favourite female character from the entire show … or, at least, she is when they let her be a strong, independent and slightly ruthless character. The actress brings a gusto to those sorts of roles that is very fun to watch. However, they tried to present her as tough yet vulnerable, and so end up often trying to use her as a “damsel” to some other character, like Bobby or Nicholas, and either the writers or the actress simply can’t pull that off, so it falls flat. Which is unfortunate, since the end of her arc is that sort of “damsel” story for Bobby that leads to her death.

Michelle Stevens, on the other hand, is simply pathetic, which is bad since she is supposed to carry a lot of the drama in the last half of season 14. But she’s so desperate for someone to love her that her whole marriage thing with James really falls flat, and she doesn’t do any actually interesting manipulating while pretending that she has. For example, she sells her ownership of Ewing Oil with a 50-50 split to J.R. and Cliff for the price she paid for the whole thing (apiece) … a price that J.R. noted when she bought it that was much, much less than the company was worth. And she only got there in the first place through a completely random and lucky encounter with someone with the money to buy Bobby out and a desire to hurt J.R., who after doing that was willing to reward Michelle for her small attempts at facilitation. Michelle Stevens is not a character that I enjoyed watching.

Cally Harper was a character who really did pull off the “nice” angle quite well. She was manipulative at times, but constantly managed to play out the “nice girl” throughout her entire run. She was fun to watch, but her drama didn’t really work for me, and so it was a little boring. Especially since it was linked with James Beaumont who was both annoying and, for the most part, kinda stupid. As these are the three main characters driving the drama with J.R. in season 14, that left that season, as I said, a bit flat.

Cliff had flashes of actually being a decent person in the last few seasons, but they didn’t last. As the longest running antagonist to the Ewings, for the most part he ought to be remembered as a major jerk, a tiny little man too weak and too stupid to be anything but a minor annoyance. (Note: this doesn’t take the new series into account, because I haven’t seen any of it).

For the price per hour of entertainment, Dallas was certainly worth it. I may even watch it again sometime.

Thoughts on Season 10 of “Dallas”

February 24, 2016

I’m still watching “Dallas”, and actually enjoying it. At the time of writing this, I’m probably half-way through Season 11, but I want to talk about what is almost certainly one of the most controversial seasons of the show: Season 10, which introduced and ran with the “Season 9 was all a dream” idea.

The issue was this: at the end of Season 8, Patrick Duffy, who plays Bobby Ewing, decided that he wanted to leave the show. They gave him a big, clear send-off, and then moved on with Season 9 without him. Then a couple of things came up that caused problems. First, Bobby was a really big part of what made the show interesting, and so there were issues with Season 9 because of that. Second, Patrick Duffy wanted to come back to the show, and given my first comment it was definitely in the best interests of the show for him to return. But they didn’t leave much room to bring him back, even for a soap opera. So they decided to make it all a dream and essentially invalidate the entire season, which not only will raise the issues for the show that I’ll talk about in a minute, but also caused havoc for their closely related spin-off “Knot’s Landing”, causing a split between them into two separate timelines.

Now, once they decided to invalidate Season 9, they still had to resolve the lingering plots and cliff-hangers from Season 8. But if they just played them out again as we’d already seen, then that would really seem like they were cheating the audience with this “dream” explanation. So they had to come up with something different, and yet something that worked as well or ideally better than the originals. This was going to be very difficult as the audience will still be able to remember the original storylines and how they were resolved, and so would be able to compare them pretty closely. It’s worse with the DVDs (where Season 9 was watched essentially last week) than it would be live when that was over a year ago, but it’s still close enough to remember.

To make it worse, in Season 10, at least early, it looks like “Dallas” discovers the most aggressive type of feminism. It starts from the mild example of Sue Ellen, as her reworked “recovering from alcoholism” plot involves her buying a company with pretty much the main purpose of getting Mandy Winger out of J.R.’s life with whatever underhanded techniques she could possibly use. In this, despite being a novice in any industry, her advisers are set-up as smarmy, condescending men that she knows far better than, as she pointedly comments on with a speech that’s as close to calling them out for “mansplaining” as you can be without actually using the word. In some sense, her using her personal experience with women and lingerie over their, well, psychological crap is a decent storyline, but the issue is that either these people were incompetent and they needed her to build the company up again — at which point she could, you know, just point that out to them by saying “It’s not like your ideas were winning you business, so maybe you don’t know as much as you think” — or else they weren’t and she should listen to them more.

But the biggest issue with this move is that it hurt the character. While I’m not insisting on “women as victims” roles — for example, Pam was never that and that was about the only redeeming quality the character had most of the time — the key to her character, up until this point, was that she was, essentially, a mostly good character getting constantly jerked around by J.R.. She had her problems and biases, too, but for the most part we sympathized with her because she really didn’t deserve how J.R. treated her … which can be compared to Katherine Wentworth, who did deserve and clearly was trying to play the manipulator role, but failed at it because, well, she wasn’t as good at it as J.R. was. But then, who was?

By making Sue Ellen a manipulator, they opened her up to retaliation from J.R., retaliation that she wasn’t going to be able to respond to. But we wouldn’t feel sorry for her, but instead ask her what she thought would happen going up against J.R. in that way. The only thing that saves her is J.R. give her grudging respect when he finds out, and the two of them rekindling their marriage realizing that they are good for each other, which carries on into Season 11 for a bit, until the rules of drama break them up again. So, they need the man to save the strong feminist character; not exactly a win for feminism, methinks.

They also seem to have derailed, at least in part, a few characters to make them more sexist. The worst is Cliff Barnes, whom I’ve constantly thought a jerk throughout the entire series (and Season 10 seems to openly concede that). But he’s always been a general, selfish jerk, in the sense that he’s completely and totally self-interested. I didn’t see anything in particular to suggest that he’s really sexist, but in Season 10 he immediately turns that way. First, when Donna takes over the movement that he started to lobby the government to raise oil prices, he tries to get his power back by immediately suggesting that Donna can’t do the job because she’s a woman, a move so out of character that I thought that he had to be trying to play to the crowd (which didn’t work). But then he also justifies ignoring Jamie’s advice on the grounds that she’s a woman and so doesn’t know anything, which comes straight out of left field. Worse, while he ignored her advice in Season 9 as well, that was clearly more of a “So, someone who worked on rigs in Alaska is going to tell me, deep in the oil business, how to deal with oil? Please.”, in the same manner as J.R. reacted to her. And in that season, when he discovered that she was right he immediately brought her on into a bigger role. Here, he just rejects her because she’s a woman and nothing gets settled. Fortunately, he reverts to just being a general jerk by the end of the season.

Ray also gets this treatment. Previously, the issues between him and Donna were clearly more about his inferiority complex and his feeling that he didn’t fit in in her world. In short, he thought that she would be happier with someone who wasn’t just a cowboy, which weighed on him no matter how much she insisted that she didn’t want more than a cowboy. In this season, in a number of cases they imply that it was more than Donna didn’t play the role of a traditional wife than that, including having someone mention to Donna that Texas men wanted their wives in the more traditional roles, with the implication that, again, that was Ray’s main issue (he himself hints at that in a conversation with her). Fortunately, again, by the end of the season and when the divorce finally happens it’s back to Ray simply not feeling like he belongs in her world, and he takes up with Jenna Wade which is a much more reasonable relationship.

The one big success in this season, in my opinion, is April Stevens. She is a very annoying character, but she’s just a lot of fun to watch. She’s incredibly smug, brassy and brazen, which is annoying because, well, she hasn’t done anything to deserve it yet, and both the characters and the audience ought to feel that way about her. But what she does there is fun to watch, and it’s always so entertaining to watch her pull out the smugness and unleash it on the others. Out of the female characters, she was probably my favourite in this season, which carries on a bit into Season 11.