Archive for the ‘TV/Movies’ Category

Further Thoughts on Fraiser (mid Season 8)

January 8, 2018

So, I’m almost through Season 8 of Frasier, leaving only the final three seasons to go, so here are my further thoughts on it.

The show continues to often take more serious lines and deeper problems on in order to generate its humour. A lot of these are, in fact, issues that if you’re in the right age range you will very much relate to (Frasier is about my age or slightly older in the series). And, again, while this can be funny it can also still hurt the simple enjoyment of it, because it reminds you of those problems and issues and that you, yourself, might have to deal with. That I can relate quite a bit more to Frasier than I could to other sitcom stars doesn’t actually help that. The scenes are done well and work without being preachy — the show itself lampshades the desire for a lesson or moral at some point — but Frasier isn’t a light sitcom, at least for me, in the same way that Cheers or Sabrina the Teenage Witch was. Which isn’t a bad thing.

They also seem to be willing to try different things at times, playing around with a Rashomon-style perspective switch and, most interestingly, creating an entire episode around the idea that one small decision could have a huge impact on someone’s life, playing through what might result depending on whether Frasier decided to wear a sweater or a suit to a speed dating event. And yet, it also plays on the idea of destiny, as one couple gets together at the end on both paths, and the paths re-merge at the end with Frasier making a specific decision, with that decision following naturally from what happened on each path.

One of the issues, though, is that Frasier himself never gets any kind of arc. He doesn’t get a girlfriend who lasts longer than a couple of episodes, and he is constantly complaining about not being able to get dates for pretty much the entire series so far. Not only does this make him seem more pathetic than he really should be — or is — it also takes away what I feel often makes for the more interesting episodes: the times when Frasier has to play off against a woman who is as smart as he is. It not only lets him show a more gallant side of himself — there’s a good scene in an episode where he is trying to hire a stripper for a bachelor party — but it can generate a lot of humour that allows Frasier to be wrong but not pathetic, especially if his date is more down-to-earth than he is. This is what makes me regret the decision — probably due to necessity — to cut Lilith out of the show, because some of the absolutely best episodes of the show are when Lilith comes to visit, partly because of how well she and Frasier play off of each other but also because it gives both Niles and Martin the opportunity to snark at her, with her deadpan snark playing off of it. And I also really liked the one girlfriend he had who had the interfering mother and who made him pretend to be Jewish because she thought her mother wouldn’t approve. I would have loved to have seen longer arcs with him dating someone, although that would have limited the “dating disaster” episodes that they so love, but that I really wish they had done less of. Especially when the disaster happens due to Frasier’s own fault, and for things that he really should have learned not to do a long time ago. I like the humility lessons, but he rarely ever learns from it or gets any real gain from that show of humility, which them makes it kind of pointless.

The one arc that the show does have is the Niles and Daphne crush, which starts in the first episode and continues through his separation and divorce and her engagement. They finally get together at the end of Season 7, with the final resolution and fallout from that — Daphne was getting engaged and Niles had had a whirlwind marriage — carrying on into Season 8, so about where I am now. The good thing about this arc is that it involves two more minor characters, so it is easier to weave into the story when it makes sense or when it allows for a good joke, while allowing it to be completely ignored when it wouldn’t work. The bad thing about it is that it drags on for way too long. Niles and Maris get separated in something like the second season, and that drags on for a couple more, and all the while Niles never asks Daphne out either. So the whole plot keeps simmering for, well, most of the series. Now, since I knew that they would get together eventually, that might have an impact that you wouldn’t see at the time, but I really felt that it dragged on too long.

Also, there are a number of incredibly stupid episodes, usually ones where Frasier and Nile’s arrogance and pretension is racheted up to 11 and it has to get them in massive trouble that is supposed to be hilarious but usually isn’t, which usually ends up being just another excuse to make Frasier miserable. In fact, my biggest criticism of the series — in line with what I said above — is that it makes Frasier too miserable and too much of a loser. It’s so overblown at times that it can’t be taken seriously, and makes Frasier less sympathetic as a character. And since he is the main character, that can make the series less interesting to watch, especially when Frasier’s problems aren’t that bad or, worse, have simple fixes that no one acknowledges (it works better when the fact that Frasier overcomplicates things is lampshaded).

Still, the series is pretty enjoyable so far. I’ve been reading a book on the Spitfire vs the 109 in WWII, and I’ve stopped opening it while watching Frasier, because it felt more like a security blanket than something I was reading. So it was definitely worth getting.


First Thoughts on Frasier

December 18, 2017

So, I’m almost at the end of Season 4 of Frasier (I think I only have the finale left). So far, it’s pretty enjoyable. It’s definitely a smarter and more sophisticated sitcom than Cheers was, and that’s not just because Frasier and Niles are so pretentiously sophisticated. No, it in general avoids taking on the standard sitcom tropes, but instead focuses on humor built more around those pretentious and the clash between that and their father’s down-to-earth tastes, with a heaping helping of Daphne’s oddness thrown in. The best episodes, it seems to me, are the ones that aim more at than, and that rely less on Frasier doing something wrong and then trying to lie his way out of it. Yes, that’s consistent with Frasier’s personality, but it often seems to be a bit forced. Admittedly, a big part of the humour — even in those storylines — comes from how two educated psychiatrists can encourage their patients to find self-awareness but who, in general completely lack it themselves.

Still, even these plots often get derailed by lampshading. For example, in one episode Frasier meets a listener — right when he needs to feel that he’s doing good with his radio show as opposed to being in practice — who has a mask of his deceased wife’s face (because he’s blind and so that’s the only way he can relive that). Frasier accidentally drops it and the nose comes off. He spends the rest of the episode trying to reattach it, and as he’s leaving the man says that there aren’t a lot of people with Frasier’s integrity. Feeling guilty, he returns to confess, only to have the man say that he’s done that a number of times already, driving home the lesson — that Frasier will forget — that he really should have just come clean.

One thing about the show, though, is that it can be hard to watch sometimes because it likes to discuss and focus on real problems and issues, like Frasier having to have his father come and live with him when he can’t live on his own despite the fact that they don’t have a lot in common, or issues around getting older or dying young, and a host of other issues. If you’re in that age range and can see the potential issues, it can sap the comedy a little as you picture yourself in that situation and feel the weight of the problem. That being said, it tends to bring enough humour to lighten the mood for you at some point so that it doesn’t become oppressive.

One interesting thing I noticed is that despite the fact that Roz is played up as being incredibly promiscuous — and mostly unashamed about that — she almost never dresses that way. In general, what she’s wearing is professional and often downright conservative. While she is flirtatious, most of her promiscuity is an informed trait, and not something that she shows in the show all that often. It’s especially interesting in that despite that I have no problems believing that she is promiscuous and very successful at it, and it doesn’t break immersion at all. And it also allows her to be presented as a more nuanced character; she likes sex, but isn’t a simple sex bombshell, and makes it easier to accept when they go into other storylines with her like issues with the station, her career, or her family.

So far, it’s enjoyable, and is a lot harder to read through than Cheers was, which is a clear sign that I’m enjoying it more.

Retro …

December 4, 2017

So, in the summer, I talked about watching and enjoying Vintage TV. Well, it turned out that it was on a free preview when I was watching it, and when it came to an end my cable provider only provided it if you had the full package that gave you absolutely everything. Since there was no way in the world I was going to do that, I obviously stopped watching it. But I kept looking around to see if it would appear anywhere that I could access cheaper. I also started looking at adding some other packs because I had a bit more room in my budget and really did want to find something to have on while playing games and the like.

So, recently, Vintage did get added to a pack. But the price for that pack was a bit high considering that it was the only channel I had any interest in watching in it and Vintage was good but not great. As I was looking around, though, I also found Stingray Retro, which used to be Much Retro, in a pack that was half the price of the one that Vintage was in. But since I didn’t know if that one played mostly videos or had gone over to shows like MTV and Much Music, I decided I’d give it a try and see if it worked for me, especially since I got another two Stingray channels in the bargain.

It ended up working out really well. While it doesn’t span as many years as Vintage, it also seems to have access to a wider range of music than Vintage did. While on Vintage I tended to get a few British things and a lot of Kylie Minogue, with Stingray Retro I get a lot more of the acts that I grew up with and a lot more recognizable songs, although they are biased towards Canadian acts, so I get a lot more Glass Tiger, for example, than you’d expect otherwise. And I even still got to see at least one Kylie Minogue video that I hadn’t seen (and she still looks like she’s really enjoying being in the video). It also pretty much only does videos, while Vintage added in more live acts and interview shows, which interested me less. Considering that it’s also half the price and I get two other video channels (although Loud is probably the only one I’ll consider watching) and that in looking at some of the other channels in the pack there might be times when I’d watch them this was certainly worth what I’m paying for it, and I don’t see a need to add any other channels or packs in the near future.

Your chance to help decide what I write about!

November 29, 2017

So, I’ve been running with the three updates a week schedule for quite a while now, and it seems to be working out pretty well. It even managed to survive my incredible busy time without all that much of a hitch. In doing this I’ve also started to figure out what things work, what things don’t and how things can work out better in my schedule, which then might start to make the blog more predictable consistent in how things work and what sort of content you might see here. In short, there are certain types of content that work pretty well whether I’m busy or not, and that are also things that I like talking about and am going to do some things with anyway, so I might as well talk about them.

The key is that what works best for the blog are things that I can watch, read or do at any time and then comment on later without having to refer back to the original source material that much. If I can do that, then it really makes my blog writing more flexible and so gives me things that can be done in a relative hurry if I’m busy but that I can do in free time if I’m not busy. TV shows are the ideal for this, and books are probably the worst (since to comment on arguments fairly I generally want to quote from them). But since a lot of these things are things that I haven’t focused on or that are suddenly fitting into my schedule better than they did before, I’m also a bit short of things that fit into those categories and so need to find some new sources for those sorts of posts.

Here is your chance to guide me towards new things to try in those areas.

So, one thing that I’ve found myself lately is watching Extra Credits youtube videos and commenting on them (which in their case means “Disagreeing with them”). In fact, I’m planning on commenting on another couple of them in the near future. But other than SF Debris, I don’t really watch a lot of youtube videos, especially when it comes to gaming. And about the only other commentator on games that I read consistently is Shamus Young, and I’m thinking about digging through his old columns — which he is planning on revisting himself, making this so much easier — to find some other things to talk about. But what other video game commentators do you guys like to watch or read who might have things to say that I might find interesting and want to talk about? While ones that I would probably disagree with are in some sense good — because it’s always pretty easy to write posts disagreeing with people (Hi, Extra Credits!) — I’m also open to people who just say things that might bring up interesting, tangentially related ideas for me to talk about (Hi, Shamus!).

A couple of caveats, though: for youtube videos, the videos can’t be longer, on average, than a half-hour, and can’t be Let’s Plays. Text reviewers are not only excluded from those restrictions, they’ll get precedence because it’s easier for me to read them anywhere and quote them if I want to talk about what they’re saying.

Another thing that I’ve recently started doing more frequently is commenting on TV shows that I’m watching in general, which you saw with Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Transformers, and most recently Cheers. I’m currently watching Frasier, and will talk about it as things go along, and I still have a show like Wings waiting when this is done. But since I don’t watch a lot of TV in general, I don’t have much of an idea of what shows might be worth watching, and for my purposes — see the upcoming caveats — don’t want to risk trying something out that I don’t think will be good.

Right now, there are a number of caveats. First, for at least the next year it looks like half-hour shows are what I’ll be watching, and that’s all that I could do for the blog because it would take me too long to watch hourly shows to be useful for generating content on the blog. However, that isn’t limited to sitcoms, as it can fit into anything that is half-hour in length and sounds interesting, like cartoons (for example). Second, these have to be completed series, and it has to be the case that I can get the entire series for a reasonable price. Ideally, if I can order them all on, that would be wonderful. EDIT: I’ll pretty much be buying DVDs, so if it’s not out on DVD the chances of my watching it are slim to none. Third, they can’t be too long; the eleven seasons of Frasier and Cheers are probably about the limit, although that’s more number of episodes rather than number of seasons.

As an example, I’m right now looking to see if I can get Hot in Cleveland — which I’ve talked about before — and maybe, now that its run is done, 2 Broke Girls if I can get the seasons for a reasonable price. Big Bang Theory is out because it is still running and is too long anyway, as is something like The Simpsons for the same reason.

I’m also interested in getting suggestions for books to read and talk about. I do want to keep reading and writing about deeper and more serious topics like that, even though it takes me a while to get around to commenting on them (I have finished reading Philipse’s book, for example, but still have to finish writing posts about it), and I’m a bit out of the loop on what the most recent or, for some genres, even what the popular books and topics are. So I’d be looking for suggestions in the genres of theology, philosophy, and history primarily. I’ll also consider requests for TPB comic editions (but, at least for now, not Alt-Hero).

Now, just because something isn’t listed here doesn’t mean that I won’t be writing about it. For example, I still intend to write about video games, but that will still be limited to the ones I play, and I won’t be soliciting ones to consider as something new so I can talk about it on the blog. And I’ll talk about music and my own eccentricities and do song parodies and talk about computers and write philosophical posts regardless. It’s just that these are categories that it is both relatively easy for me to write about and that I’m fairly uninformed about what’s out there that I might want to get into and write about, which is why I’m asking for suggestions here.

Also note that this isn’t like Chuck’s requests. I don’t put these on a list and promise to have them completed at some time in the near future. I’ll do them if I feel like it and get time and can get them without breaking the bank. I’ll try to respond to all comments as to whether there’s even a chance of it and I’ll try to put something up for things that I’ve bought and so plan to get to at some point, but any suggestion you make here is a suggestion that I’ll consider but may not do, even if I think it’s a good one.

Final Thoughts on Cheers

November 27, 2017

So, I finally finished watching all 11 seasons of Cheers. And I have to say that while the show improved significantly after Diane left, season 11 was the season where they pretty much ran out of ideas and it all went downhill. It was a really good idea to end it where they did.

Sam and Rebecca, despite being the two characters whose actors got first billing, faded into the background in the later seasons. Sam ended up being a supporting character for the most part, while Rebecca was turned into a B-plot character most of the time. Which in some way makes sense, since they really focused on her dysfunctions and so the easiest way to use her character was to trigger a dysfunction as a background funny event and then use that as the B-plot for that episode. But there wasn’t really much more to her character and so no where for it to go. Even her getting married at the end was a quick ending that served little more than to have Rebecca act dysfunctional for the final episodes. Kirstie Alley did that well, but I still tended to prefer her when she was in tough mode than in dysfunctional mode.

Sam’s sex addiction storyline makes sense to me, because it seems to me that while it was something that he enjoyed, there ended up being an undercurrent of that also being a status symbol for him, especially since the bar patrons liked to live vicariously through him. As he aged — and clearly had problems with aging — it became more and more important to him as a sign that he still had it, and less as something that he did for fun. This could, then, have led to it being something he did even when he didn’t want to, because if he failed then it would greatly impact his own self-image. So he had to keep up a large string of successes, even as it seemed to become less and less interesting to him, especially since if he even decided to not pursue it the regulars would pressure him into it, like they did with the competition with Henri. Which had a great ending, where Sam decides to not pressure a purportedly vulnerable woman to get the number he needed to win or tie the event … and then after she says that she spins that line as a test and that her and her two friends — who do everything together — were interested in going out with him, and so Sam gets to say to Henri that he is obviously broken up over losing to Henri as he leaves with three beautiful women.

They also added a new semi-regular character in Paul, but I never warmed to him. As he was new, we didn’t have the years to get to know him like we had for the others, but he also didn’t really have a specific role — like Cliff and Norm — at the bar to slot into. Thus, he ended up being kinda a generic loser, which wasn’t very interesting. At the end of the day, as a character he didn’t have any more development than the other semi-regular bar patrons, but he seemed to be shoehorned into more situations that they were and so was made more prominent, which kinda made him more annoying than entertaining.

As the show progressed, Woody lost a bit of his naivete and was more often willing to engage in mean-spirited humour, which hurt the character. The problem is, though, that you couldn’t really keep him that nice forever, and a lot of the jokes he made were things that you’d expect from someone who grew up in a rural area. However, since Carla’s entire schtick was based around being mean-spirited — although she got some development later — the show could slide towards having more mean-spirited humour than was probably good for it. Good-natured ribbing was par for the course given the environment, but with Carla none of it was good-natured, except possibly at times with Sam. Which meant that while I might have liked Carla more when I first watched it, this time I found her to be annoying.

It’s also fairly clear from this why Frasier was the one who got the spin-off show, as the two most interesting storylines, at least to me, was his with Lilith and Woody’s with Kelly. And while I would have liked to have seen more of Woody and Kelly — as their pleasant but naive and often stupid personalities really broke up some of the nastiness — there wasn’t much that you could do with that specific line, and attempts to develop them, as already stated, risked making them less nice and so less pleasant to watch. There’s just more sorts of humour and development you could do with Lilith and Frasier, either together or, at it turned out, separately.

I actually liked Lilith as a character, but strongly disliked the part of the plot where she had an affair. The problem is that her having one made little sense. Even during the affair plot, she talks about how great the sex was, so it doesn’t seem to be a lack of sexual satisfaction that causes it, but then about the only other reason for it would be a lack of emotional support … but Lilith was so emotionless most of the time that it would make more sense for Frasier to cheat on that basis instead of her. It probably should have been built more around her career entirely, with her leaving him precisely for the chance to go into the Ecopod and the affair developing there, which would also have played into the fact that based on how she talks she quite likely has a pretty high sex drive, and thus might have a harder time abstaining from sex than Frasier would. Still, it was one of the better storylines.

One thing that happened to me a lot while watching Cheers was that as it seemed to drop subtle hints about its plot twists I often figured out what was going on before they actually revealed it, like with the one case where Diane has a dream within a dream where Sam changes and pushes for a relationship and because he changes so drastically we know that this must be a dream and where when Frasier receives a letter from Lilith asking for a divorce when she storms into the bar we can pretty quickly guess that it was her boyfriend who sent the letter even before he reveals it. To the show’s credit, figuring out the twists doesn’t usually make the scenes less entertaining, and in fact might even add to it as we wait to see how far things will go or how it will be revealed, and pat ourselves on the back for being right.

Cheers also probably relies on continuity far more than almost any other sitcom I’ve ever watched, constantly making references to things that happened in the past and often elevating small scenes that were almost forgotten into full-fledged plots. That these generally worked is also to the show’s credit. I have no idea if they planted seeds in case they needed to use them later or had them as throw-away jokes that they were inspired to use when they needed it for a plot, but whatever the case it provided something that I haven’t seen in a lot of sitcoms.

Now, onto the ending, where Diane came back. I can see why they did it, but it both came up and was resolved too quickly to really matter, and if you weren’t pining for Sam and Diane or weren’t hoping for a resolution to their relationship or an explanation for why Diane never came back you really wouldn’t care much about it, and so it will come off a bit flat. If you didn’t care for their relationship, then it will seem like time wasted that could have been used exploring better storylines.

At the end of the day, my overall assessment of the show is that it was … okay. It was rough in some parts, but for the most part never really fell below “meh” even in its worst episodes. So it was pretty much always watchable. The Sam and Diane relationship probably dragged on longer than it should have, and the show really hit its stride when it ended and the satellite characters got more focus, only to peter out towards the end. I probably will watch this again at some point.

Still Further Thoughts on Cheers (End Season 8)

November 6, 2017

Cheers got much, much better after Diane left.

A big part of this is because of what I touched on at the end of Season 5, as the Sam and Diane relationship overly dominated the show and wasn’t all that interesting to start with. As the show went along, the secondary characters became more and more important and also more and more interesting. With the Sam and Diane romance out of the way, there was more time available to explore these characters and tell stories featuring them. So we could focus on Frasier and Lilith getting married and having a child, Cliff’s mother moving to Florida and him finding romance with someone as mail-focused as he was, on Woody and his relationship with the absolutely spoiled sweet Kelly and a bit more on Carla to take her from the snarky tramp to having a bit more depth to her. About the only secondary character who doesn’t really get a chance to shine is Norm, but his big story arcs — his love for his wife and the details of his career — were pretty much settled before this. As he strikes up an early friendship with Rebecca, he turns into the perfect supporting character for all the storylines, as he’s pretty much the only character that everyone in the bar gets along with. Even his painting business is best used to set-up storylines for other characters.

With the big romance out of the way, the relationship between Rebecca and Sam can take a back seat to the other stories. Sam is indeed trying to pursue her, but it isn’t the main relationship drama of the show. This means that while it can be the main plot of an episode, it can also be a B-plot or even merely a complication. Even the triangle with Robin is less one of actual love and more of mutual jealousy. So this allows the plot to have more elements because they don’t have to play out the typical atypical dramatic romance plot. I actually really like Rebecca’s ploy when Sam finally corners her: agree, but refuse to participate. Not only does this show cleverness on her part, it also reveals that Sam doesn’t just want sex, but instead wants eager participation. If she’s just going to be passive about it, he’s not interested. This actually expands his character from the simple lothario to someone with a bit more depth. This is also revealed when at one point when Rebecca was devastated, he started to make a move on her and when she was somewhat responding, he decides not to take advantage of her, leaves, and calls her from the lobby so that he could still support her while not risking seducing her. When Rebecca insists that it wouldn’t happen, he asks her to check her bra, and when she does she asks “How did you do that?”, not knowing how he could do whatever it was while they were simply hugging on the sofa, which a) keeps his “ladies man” image alive, b) shows that he’s right to not want to stay because he’d probably seduce her and c) is actually funny.

I also liked how when they first met Rebecca gives a big smile of attraction and interest and only turns cold after he tries to hit on her.

As the series goes along, Rebecca becomes more of a loser. Up until Season 9, she hadn’t lost all of her competence and strength, but more and more she was screwing things up and had a disastrous personal life. I don’t mind the disastrous personal life, but think that her incompetence works better when it’s played up as book smarts vs street smarts rather than her just being, as she herself puts it, too dumb to live.

Speaking of that, at one point I was washing dishes and wondering what Robin Colcord saw in her that made him interested in her, and then remembered the ending — that I hadn’t seen the episode of yet — of that and noted what, indeed, he was after. But at the start of Season 9, he seemingly really does love her. We’ll have to see how that plays out (I already know the ending, but want to see how it gets there).

Ultimately, at this point Cheers is actually entertaining most of the time.

Further Thoughts on Cheers (End Season 5)

October 23, 2017

So, the first five seasons of Cheers is dominated by the Sam and Diane relationship. Which is unfortunate, because this arc is the least interesting out of the ones they had, featuring the least interesting characters — at least at the time — and is also filled with nonsense in an attempt to wring dramatic tension out of the relationship.

At the end of Season 3, Diane is proposed to by Frasier, accepts, and then tries to call Sam to, it seems, get him to admit his feelings for her and/or talk her out of it. When Sam finds out about the upcoming marriage, he rushes off to Italy to try to stop the wedding. The arc ends at the beginning of Season 4 with Diane having left Frasier at the altar, and Sam having had to go through a number of trials to stop a wedding that never happened. And both Sam and Diane are quite aware that the other did that.

So how come they don’t get together after that? At that point, neither of them can really deny their feelings for each other, and there isn’t even a real explanation of them thinking that the passion was there but that the relationship wouldn’t work. Even then it’s clear that they aren’t going to be able to move on any time soon, and so at a minimum Diane probably should have stayed away from the bar and gotten a job somewhere else. But none of that happens because the show can’t let that happen, but there’s really no way to top this when it comes to their relationship. If this event didn’t convince them to get married or at least get back together, it seems that nothing could. And yet they still have to play this tired arc out and try to keep the tension in this relationship going somehow.

After a full season of this, they have Sam date a politician, who says that she wants marriage. This triggers Sam to think about marriage, and ultimately to ask Diane to marry him, who initially says “No” and then reconsiders, only for Sam to withdraw the offer. Not only is this in and of itself mostly ridiculous, it leads to Diane adopting the very annoying trait of consistently insisting that Sam is going to ask her again while Sam vehemently denies it. And the worst part of it is that given what has gone on before we know that Diane is right, but she’s being very smug and annoying about it. In an episode where Diane smugly insists that he will ask her that day, he does … and she says “No” again. At which point, they probably should just give it up, but instead they go to court and the judge insists that Sam propose in order to not be charged, which he does, she accepts, and they head to the end of the season planning a wedding. Which was also stupid, as it never really resolves why Diane said “No” the other times.

But since they don’t get married at the end of the season, you’d think that what makes them break up would follow from that, right? Nope … well, at least not directly. What happens is that Diane’s first fiance Sumner conveniently comes back right before the wedding — I think it was in the season finale — and says that he’s sent Diane’s book to an editor friend of his who thinks that it might be worth publishing, but only if Diane finishes it. He later confirms that it would be published, setting up a situation where it is believed that Diane has to choose between marrying Sam now or finishing the book. Sam convinces her — over her protests — to take the time to finish the book, which just happens to involve her going to Sumner’s cottage somewhere for six months. Diane insists that she’ll return, but she never does and the book deal ends up falling through. Diane is hinted at having gone to Hollywood to write for TV, probably a comment on Shelley Long focusing on making movies after that point.

But here’s why this really doesn’t work for me: bringing Sumner in at that point was just too convenient. Everyone should have suspected that he was doing this to try to break Sam and Diane up and possibly make a move on her himself. That he happens to send her novel off at pretty much the same time as he found out about the wedding and happens to send it to a friend who happens to think it will work and it just so happens that he has a secluded place available for her to work is an awful lot of happens to absorb, and yet no one questions his motives. If this had been set up more episodes in advance where there would have been time to question and verify what was happening, this would have worked out so much better. As it stands, it really looked to me like Sam and Diane got suckered by Sumner.

You can argue that Shelley Long’s decision to leave came too late to really do that sort of set-up, but then all they needed to do was have Sam or Diane have doubts about what her consistent “Nos” meant. Even if they had to leave the door open for her to return, this could have easily been resolved with her deciding that she needed more meditation time and then resolving that either way at the beginning of this season. As it stands, it’s a nonsensical ending to a nonsensical and boring story arc.

This is not helped by Diane being Flanderized a bit and becoming more annoying because of it. She always did have a streak of thinking that she was smarter and better than she really was, but she was always presented as being cultured and, for the most part, having some talent but ruining it by being overly ambitious and thus complicating everything. In Season 5, she’s far less competent and far more often overlooks failings that she really should have been able to spot. For example, in one episode she is trying out for ballet and gets a bad review of her abilities. To be nice, Frasier changes the recommendations to be more flattering, which ends up prompting her to barge in and try out for a professional ballet troupe to follow her dream, but Sam and Frasier stop her before she can make a fool out of herself. The problem is that she had a video of it, which makes everyone in the bar laugh at how ridiculous she looks. It’s perfectly reasonable for her to not see how her dancing really looks while dancing it, so that’s fine. But she watches it with them. And despite her having to know what the dance should look like, she thinks she did well, and it’s only when they tell her that they faked the review that she realizes otherwise. Well, sure, she might decide to trust the famous teacher over her own opinion, especially when that tells her what she wants to hear … but Diane had shown some self-awareness in the past, and this just sails right on past it. We might be able to believe that she could delude herself that badly about writing or poetry — although in those cases given how she does immerse herself in those media she’d likely be more derivative and think herself creative than be really, really bad — but with this she really should have known better.

And it isn’t even funny.

However, Cheers can be clever at times, and by now we’re starting to see its strength, which is its characters. Sam and Diane as characters work so much better when they are supporting the other characters and not hogging the spotlight. The relationship between Frasier and Lilith is much, much more interesting that the one between Sam and Diane. After starting from a disastrous first date, they end up on a show together, and Diane realizes that Frasier is in love with Lilith. Given her nature, she decides to intervene and tell Lilith about it, and then try to make her over in order to attract Frasier. What’s wonderful here is that when Diane tells Lilith that Frasier is in love with her, Lilith’s immediate reaction is that she’s not the type of pretty girl that people fall in love with, which made me immediately react with puzzlement. This seemed to come out of nowhere, and Bebe Neuwirth is a very attractive woman. But this results in Fridge Brilliance when you realize that the person who, so far, has made the biggest deal out of her looks is … Lilith. Diane simply says that she needs to dress better and use more … some makeup. Frasier, when he badmouths her, tends to talk about how cold and emotionally repressed she is, not about how unattractive she is, and give his personality he wouldn’t have asked her out the first time if he didn’t find her attractive. And if anyone else comments on that, it’s as a quick aside. Thus, it’s easy to imagine that she might have been awkward as a teen, and to avoid the teasing retreated to what she was better than most people at, which was things that involved intelligence, and thus cultivated the ideal intellectual manner, including the look. Since she wasn’t surprised that Frasier asked her out the first time, she had to think that her peers at least wanted to have sex with her, but could have fobbed it off as being the result of a male dominated field and her being one of the few women available. Her cold manner and aggressive intellectualism — worse than Frasier at lot of the time, who is pretty bad at it himself — would make most men not want to pursue a relationship with her, justifying her comment, and we can note that that is indeed what Frasier dislikes about her, and her more open style of dress and reaction to his flirting is probably more responsible for what gets his attention than simply that she looked hot. This underlying dynamic makes the relationship a lot more interesting than the shallow — and quickly dropped — idea of the cultured vs the everyday clash of Diane and Sam.

What the later seasons did better was avoid the split between the moral cultured class and the immoral or amoral working class. When Norm finds out that the person he is up against for a promotion is sleeping with the boss’ wife, while Diane is clearly opposed to him using that to get the promotion, Carla is also strongly opposed and Sam is uncertain about doing that as well. It’s pretty much left to Cliff to push for Norm doing it, and even here there isn’t a clear right answer.

That Norm doesn’t do it leads to another example of the importance of character. After he choose not to do it, the boss tells him that the reason Norm lost the promotion to the other person was that Norm’s wife Vera didn’t fit in with the other wives. Vera really wanted him to get the promotion so that they could buy a house. Norm is outraged and ends up quitting, and then has to tell his wife what happened. While he says that he plans to tell her the truth, he can’t hurt her that way, and so ends up accepting all the blame himself, proving that he really loves her despite his constant comments about her. This character development only carries on later when Diane tries to help Norm get noticed at a new job and get a promotion, and after his colleague steals Norm’s — bad, as it turns out — idea Norm finally says that he doesn’t want to big a big shot and just wants to be a worker drone, and is happy that way.

Woody makes a better replacement for Coach — the actor passed away in Season 3, I think — because as someone who is young you can maintain the naivete and stupidity without ever having to use the character as a mentor, which works against that. And Carla’s sniping got old, as it seems that pretty much everything she said was a snipe and it often interrupted the show to try to get in some cheap humour, which hurt her as a character.

So far Cheers is still “Okay”. Sometimes it’s clever and sometimes monumentally stupid. As I go on into season six, I’m finding that there’s more clever and less stupid, which is a good thing.

First Thoughts on Cheers …

October 2, 2017

So, the next half-hour series that I’ve decided to watch is Cheers, which I picked up for a reasonable price assuming that I watched through the entire series at least once. I’m at the beginning of Season 3, and so far I can say that it’s … okay.

As a show, it sometimes has some humour that works, and the characters are — or at least can be — interesting at times. The show is good in that it sets up character and plot points as throw-aways in some episodes that end up paying off later. Unfortunately, many of those plot and character points aren’t all that interesting, and since the previous points were throw-aways it can be hard to remember that they happened when they come up, a problem that would be made worse if you were only watching once a week instead of about a season a week like I do. In essence, it seems like it was in at the beginning of using continuity in shows and even in comedies to make a better show, but later shows have done a much better job incorporating that than it did, so it looks a little hollow today, like an attempt to do things like that but a refusal to commit to doing that. Which, to be fair, is indeed probably what it was.

The show’s main premise is the introduction of the intellectual, cultured and upper-class Diane Chambers into the working-class bar of Cheers, and the clash that produces. This leads to a lot of banter between her and Carla and Sam, and a little with the other patrons, although most of them are more pleasantly disposed towards her than Carla and Sam at least pretend to be. These snarky and sniping interactions — which, of course, persist even when Sam and Diane are dating — work best when Diane gives as good as she gets, which she starts doing after only a couple of episodes, otherwise it can feel like everyone is ganging up on her. And even then Carla’s sniping is so constant that it is often distracting, and so you just want her to shut up and let the episode get one with … whatever it is that it is supposed to be doing.

This is helped along by my finding Diane to be the most sympathetic character in the show, which is a big problem since the reason for that is that Diane seems to be the only character who actually cares about other people and tries to do the right thing most of the time, and is often opposed by the other characters in that. This ends up giving the impression that Diane is actually moral and the others are amoral at best and immoral at worst. Diane, then, is often seen as trying to care about and reach out to the other characters with them at best taking advantage of that and at worst insulting her for that. As an example, at one point Sam forces Diane and Carla to sit together to try to learn to get along, and Carla spins a tale about Sam being the father of one of her children, and Diane is deeply moved and sympathetic and tries to help … and Carla laughs at her behind her back that she believed that story. How can anyone not feel for Diane and be annoyed or even angry at Carla for that?

Ultimately, what the show ends up doing is setting up a divide where Diane is the good and moral person and the rest of the bar are unapologetically immoral much of the time. Sam is set up as her “different worlds” love interest, a womanizer who nevertheless “falls in love” with Diane. If you are going to do that, generally you set the womanizer up as someone who is willing to manipulate women into having sex with them, but at least won’t take advantage of the main heroine when she is vulnerable, so in at least some instances putting feelings over sex. Sam, in the first season, knowingly is at least willing to take advantage of Diane when she is emotionally vulnerable, and while they hint that it’s because he knows of no other way to deal with women that is never brought up again and, in general, is proven false with Carla. As for Carla herself, she has a small subplot where she ends up getting seduced by her ex-husband who gets her pregnant again so she sets out to seduce a socially awkward bar patron and then tries to convince him that he is actually the father of her child, which he does believe at first. She shows no remorse over this and refuses to even tell him until Diane browbeats her into it. When the guy is, understandably, upset and refuses to marry her — remember, they only had a one-night stand and he was only going to marry her because of the child — at which point Sam tries to convince him to marry her anyway for some reason, even going so far as to insist that if the guy doesn’t marry her, Sam will … which Sam clearly never meant to do, since the guy does walk out and he is quite reluctant to do so, even before she lets him off the hook.

How can you consider any of these actions — and therefore these characters — moral?

The problem is that this breaks down the traditional “upper crust vs working class” divide down along moral lines. Diane is our first and most prominent representative of that class, and she seems to genuinely care about other people and generally acts morally all the time, while the representatives of the working class are generally seem as petty and self-interested/self-centered, not willing to think about how their actions will affect other people and, in general, not caring about that either. Many episodes end up with Diane trying to browbeat them into caring about such things. When Coach’s friend dies and Coach finds out — from Sam — that he had slept with Coach’s wife, and at the memorial when all of his other friends confessed the same thing, even though Coach makes an impassioned speech about forgiving failings he gets swept up in the fervor of burning the person’s standie in effigy, and it is Diane singing “Amazing Grace” that calms everyone down at the end. In another incident, Norm is faced with a woman client who is attracted to him soon after reconciling with his wife, and the entire bar pretty much tries to shame him into going for it … except for Diane, who discourages it and is in fact quite disappointed when it looks like Norm was going to go for it. Even on a practical level, why would Norm do that soon after reconciling with his wife and being happier when he was back with her? If this had been done while they were separated, Diane’s objections would have been ridiculous, but it happening soon after they reconciled makes the temptation seem ridiculous. So what we end up with is a false divide between the upper-crust and the working class where the working class ends up on the immoral side, and this is consistently done throughout the first couple of seasons. The upper-crust, represented by Diane, is moral, while the working class is not.

The thing is, the “upper crust vs working class” conflict only really works when their various sensibilities are different, and it isn’t clear which one is inherently better than the other. In general, the working class tend towards the practical, the immediate, the short-term, and the in-group, while the upper-crust tends towards the abstract and the expansive. If the characters are moral, the working class tends towards helping out and supporting their friends in practical ways without worrying about any other main principle than “That’s my friend” while the upper-crust tends towards general principles. The episode where the bar patrons were worried about the bar drawing in more gay people and so becoming a gay bar while Diane was upset at the discrimination is actually not an unreasonable conflict, at least in terms of appealing to the stereotypes of working class vs upper crust. But most of the conflicts — including that one — are only superficially at best about that sort of moral divide, most often coming across as the working class being morally wrong and Diane — and by extension, the upper crust — being morally right. Sure, moral sensibilities have changed but did anyone ever think that sleeping with another woman right after reconciling with your wife or tricking someone into marriage by deliberating seducing them and deceiving them into thinking that your child by another man was theirs morally right? For the most part, pretty much all of these are at least cases where by precedent we should be inclined towards thinking that the people on the working class side are taking the morally wrong side, and they’d need to do much more to make this more morally complicated to avoid that distinction.

When they do create that divide, things work. But even here Diane is presented as more reasonable than they are. In one episode, Diane wants to watch an opera and when the others don’t want to watch it, harangues them over her giving their things a chance but them not giving hers a chance, and they try for about two seconds and switch back. Sure, Diane was an idiot to suggest the entire multi-hour Ring of the Nibelung opera, but they could have at least let her watch it since the framing was that she really wanted to watch it because it was a unique experience. While having one character always being in the right could make you really hate that character, here I, at least, end up liking her to the detriment of the others because she demonstrates good qualities and seems to be always right, and always right in a way that aligns with her character as presented and the others are wrong in a way that aligns with their characters as presented. And that makes me dislike the working class characters.

I’m also not that interested in the relationship between Sam and Diane. I found the case where they get together and then break up at the end of the season problematic, mostly because they need to bring Diane back to the show and to do that they have Sam return to the bottle, which I thought was a bit out of character for him, given how long he had been off the bottle, and that he didn’t need to get drunk to do the womanizing that he had fallen back into. But the problem had to be big enough to convince Diane to come back to a place that she refused to come back to, and so he had to be drunk and, to make that dramatic, she had to have a nervous breakdown. They just didn’t seem that close to me, and Diane didn’t have that problem when her fiance left her without a word leaving her alone and without a job. So it came across as a way to break them up dramatically and then get them back together, which didn’t really work for me.

That being said, the show is still okay. I’ll probably get through it, but I don’t like it as much as I liked “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”.

Thoughts on Beast Wars and Beast Machines

September 25, 2017

So, the last segment of my spin through Transformers was the CGI-based series “Beast Wars” and “Beast Machines”. For the most part, I think both of these series were definitely hampered by a move to short, 13-episode series from a longer Season 1 of “Beast Wars”, although “Beast Machines” suffered more than “Beast Wars” did.

While the post-movie Transformers cartoon definitely tried to take on more mature and darker topics than the original cartoon, these series went even further, although oddly while they were definitely more serious they weren’t typically darker overall, at least in “Beast Wars”. There was still a huge sense of fun that the post-movie cartoons seemed to lack, and that was also more absent in “Beast Machines”. So ultimately it started down a path of having more detailed and involved plots and characterizations and character arcs, which worked really well. And they both tended to not only have these be more detailed, but also to have more of them, and to have them all going on at the same time, which allowed for them to advance multiple arcs in the same episode while the overall episode focused on one of them or, at times, none of them.

The thing is that if you’re going to do that many involved and detailed arcs all going on at the same time, you really need the time to develop them all. In the first season of “Beast Wars”, there were enough episodes and few enough arcs that this could be done. But when the seasons shortened to 13 episodes, there wasn’t enough time to develop them all and still develop and resolve the main plot for the season. Season 2 of “Beast Wars” didn’t suffer from this as much, because it could utilize what was developed in the first season. But the third season struggled a lot more with this, ending up with a number of arcs that seemed rushed — Tigerhawk, for example, resolves the Tigertron/Air Razer kidnapping plotline by his showing up to fulfill some kind of prophecy in one episode and then dying the next — which really hurt those arcs. The Dinobot clone is another example. After the wonderfully done death of Dinobot earlier, this whole arc would have to be handled carefully, but it could have been done, especially given its ending. But the clone wasn’t properly developed and there wasn’t room to really go into detail with it, so instead the whole thing seems less than monumental. At least it didn’t feel like it ruined that original wonderful arc, but it certainly was far less than it could have been and seemed almost superfluous.

“Beast Machines”, however, suffers the most from this. For the most part, this series can’t utilize what happened in “Beast Wars” because it’s a new series, back on Cybertron. It also has a mystery to resolve and a clash between the organic and technological to resolve, as well as a number of character arcs. And it has to do it in … 26 episodes. It fails to do that, and in so doing makes many of the arcs seem rushed and, ultimately, unsatisfying, as well as a bit confusing. For example, the arc of Tankor really being Rhinox and then setting out to trick Megatron and Optimus Primal into destroying each other and the organics that Optimus was protecting or trying to revive is a good one … that is hampered by there not being time to show Rhinox developing his hatred of organics or, in fact, actually explaining it, and then Rhinox is defeated after only a few short episodes, which then loses the series an interesting antagonist. And then his redemption arc takes place in a short scene in the first episode of the next season. At that point, the arc really seems like a waste.

And this happened to so many arcs, even ones that carried on throughout both seasons. Black Arachnia’s attempts to restore Silverbolt and, once that happened, having to deal with his guilt and cynicism. Cheetor’s development into a more mature leader. Optimus’ growing obsession and mysticism. They even manage a late romance for Rattrap … started and resolved in the last couple of episodes and that ties too conveniently into the plot of the last few episodes. These ideas were all good and could have been great … but they simply weren’t developed enough and so in general come across a bit flat.

“Beast Wars”, though, is still a pretty good series, especially in the first season to season and a half. “Beast Machines”, though, is merely okay and a lot of that comes from it being a continuation from characters that we already know and like. It was worth watching, though.

Post Transformers: The Movie World

September 18, 2017

So, what struck me about the Transformers cartoon post-“The Movie” is how unlike pretty much every other series that I’ve watched — which to be fair is pretty much G1 and Beast Wars — the most interesting and driving personal conflict in the series wasn’t Galvatron vs Rodimus Prime. For the most part, any real conflict or rivalry they had was shallowly done, if at all, and not a major factor in the series. On the other hand, the conflict between Cyclonus and Ultra Magnus got more direct play and was the more interesting conflict. How did this happen?

First, Galvatron in that cartoon was absolutely insane, which was noted by the characters on numerous occasions. He didn’t have the megalomania and overall evil of, say, G1 Megatron or Beast Wars Megatron, with them being evil and having mental tics but being, overall, competent and manipulative villains. While both had a temper and definitely didn’t brook betrayal or treachery — at least against them — and often went out of their way to repay perceived or real slights, they in general were still competent and not as much of a danger to their own side as they were to the enemy. Far too often, Galvatron’s competence vanished leaving him with only power to recommend him, power that he sometimes used against his own allies in his zeal to destroy the Autobots, as was noted in “Webworld”, the episode where Cyclonus ends up having him committed in an attempt to restore his sanity so that he can more effectively lead the Decepticons. Overall, this led to a general overarching impression and plot where we have the Decepticon lieutenants — particularly Cyclonus — having to work with and work around an unstable Galvatron, made all the worse for Cyclonus because he was the one who set out to recover Galvatron, seeing him as the last hope the Decepticons had after their defeat by the Autobots. Having to admit that his revered leader wasn’t really helping in “Webworld” struck deep at him and brought home to the audience just how serious Galvatron’s insanity really was.

And this can be an interesting line to take, focusing on the Decepticons reacting to an unstable leader who nevertheless is powerful enough that he can’t just be done away with and who is enough of a figurehead that the Decepticons will automatically rally to him for the most part, whereas without him the Decepticons might fall back into fighting amongst themselves again. The problem is that this sort of storyline tends to shift the focus a lot to Cyclonus, and away from Galvatron as leader. But then maybe they could have set up a conflict between Cyclonus and Rodimus Prime, but that didn’t work for two reasons.

First, Rodimus Prime wasn’t all that impressive as Autobot leader. They deliberately set him up as the inexperienced and reluctant leader, not someone who had sought it out and someone who was more impulsive than a good leader should be. And, again, this could work. But it works best against a strong Decepticon leader, one who can try to manipulate those impulsive tendencies and doubts and force Rodimus to overcome them to oppose him, like Beast Wars Megatron. Galvatron is not that sort of Decepticon leader, and Cyclonus is in general too Lawful to pursue those courses most of the time as well. So with nothing to play off of Rodimus comes across as an ineffective leader, not as a worthy leader growing into the role. Second, Rodimus doesn’t have anything that lets us see him as the natural or superior Autobot leader. He is handed the leadership for being the “Chosen One”, but aside from that he’s singularly unimpressive as leader. He doesn’t have Optimus Prime’s or Optimus Primal’s inherent leadership ability and charisma. He doesn’t embody the Autobot principles like Optimus Prime did (sometimes not seeing to care about making peace and peace conferences, for example). He’s not as physically impressive as Optimus Prime and Optimus Primal were relative to the other characters; Ultra Magnus and Springer, for example, seem more overall physically impressive. He’s not regarded as the most skilled fighter on his team, like Optimus Prime and Optimus Primal were; Grimlock and Ultra Magnus are likely better fighters. He doesn’t even have a unique and impressive weapon or abilities like Optimus Prime — his laser rifle — and Optimus Primal — flight — had. So outside of the Matrix choosing him for some reason, we have no idea why he should be leader.

Second, the better counterpart to Cyclonus is clearly Ultra Magnus. As was lampshaded in one episode, Cyclonus and Ultra Magnus are mirror images of each other. Alignment-wise, we have Lawful Evil and Lawful Good. Both of them are dedicated to their leaders … or, at least, Ultra Magnus was to Optimus Prime, although he can be a bit frustrated by Rodimus Prime at times. And, heck, both of them are frustrated by and often have to work around the leadership failings of their leaders. However, neither of them have any interest in leading themselves. The conflict between them and the “Enemy Mine” situations they sometimes enter into is indeed a good conflict between similar yet strikingly different characters. Their conflict is interesting, and any attempt to slide that over to Rodimus would only create a conflict that was less interesting by contrast.

So, what we have is a series where both leaders aren’t the sorts of characters that can carry the main conflict of the series or being the main focus of the series, while their lieutenants in general were. It’s no wonder that, at least to me, some of the more interesting episodes are the ones that focus on Cyclonus and Ultra Magnus and their conflicts with each other, and not on Galvatron and Rodimus Prime.