Category Archives: Television

A bit on Girls (yeah, I know, another one)

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I’ve severely neglected my poor blog. It’s been almost a year since I’ve posted anything. I could say I’m going to make a concerted effort to post more, but whenever I do, I disappear again for awhile. Anyway, dear readers, all 5 of you, I have been spurred on by the continued conversation about HBO’s new series Girls to finally take to the interwebs and post some of the thoughts that have been jumbled around in my head about it. While a lot of the discussion has focused on issues of representation and the not too hidden sexism behind calling Lena Dunham, the show’s creator, writer, producer, lead actress, etc., out for these faults in a way most other TV shows made for, by, and about men are not. I’m mostly going to talk about the emotional aspects of the show, specifically my emotional engagement (or lack thereof) and how in way I’ve learned a bit about myself from it. Which is cool, yes? And I know that the Girls talk has reached levels of beating a dead hipster horse, but, I had to, and really this is a post more about me than it is about Girls in the end.

I was inspired to finally write something by the smart post here by princesscowboy (wait, handles or names? ack! the internet is so weird – anyway) and her observations about the tone in the first episode and her later thoughts about being in one’s 20s. She writes:

The Girls pilot did not make its tone clear. If you take that ambiguous tone, couple it with the show’s overblown hype and claims to authenticity, and then look at the blinding whiteness of its cast, then that is the best way to explain why I (and so many others) did not react favorably to the pilot.

I did not react well to the pilot at all, mostly for the above reason. I had no idea how I was supposed to feel about these characters. I mostly wanted to punch Hannah in the face. Indeed, I knew there was something amiss when the character with whom I identified the most was Hannah’s mother. I felt, probably in part due to the marketing, that this show was going to have something profound, if not at least interesting, to say about the (white, middle-class) female experience, but I didn’t recognize any of my life in Hannah’s (or Marnie’s, or Shoshanna’s, or Jessa’s). Full disclosure, I am a middle-class white woman and by all accounts, some aspect of one of these women should ring true to me, right? And I’ve read here and there of young woman or older woman who recognize themselves in these portraits. But, what has been happening on screen is so far from my own experiences. In fact some of it I’ve found completely horrifying. And then I realized, this is because I’ve never been a single woman in my 20s.

In the same post quoted before, princesscowboy also writes after a great comparison of Hannah to Angela Chase, another character I always wanted to punch in the face,

In fact, people in their early twenties are really no better than people in their early teens. In many ways they are worse because they are now equipped with college degrees that lead them to believe that they “understand” things about “the world.” A 23-year-old is like a very independent, very entitled toddler who can drive a car and is legally allowed to drink. We say and do very, very dumb things when we are in our early twenties, and that seems to be what Girls is about.

Some probably overly “sharey” stuff for the blog, but well, it is a blog. I got married when I was young, a week before my 21st birthday actually, for a variety of reasons, none of which were because I was pregnant. In fact, I had little intention of ever having children. But that changed, again for a variety of reasons, and when I was 24, I had my kid (the existential crisis I had at turning 25 while being the mother of a 7-month-old was awesome!). By the time I was 23, I was a homeowner. I stopped being regularly helped out by my parents while still in my undergrad years. Oddly enough, it’s only now that I’m my mid-30s that I’ve scored my first full time position, though I’ve been working since I was 16, so I came later to that than all the other social markers of adulthood. I find our culture’s pushing back of adolescence well into our 20s (again if you’re privileged enough to do so) a bit baffling. If this is a show about being a typical 20something, I’m glad I didn’t have to go through it, because it seems pretty awful at times. My experiences brought with them a whole bunch of other issues, but dealing with horrible man-children wasn’t one of them, and for that I am grateful.

So maybe this is why I can’t relate emotionally and that seems to be a big part of the show’s appeal. That glimmer of recognition just isn’t there. Dunham has talked about how all the characters are some part of her and there’s an emotional honesty about it which, while I see the appeal, is wholly alienating to me. I just can’t relate for the most part. I intended to write more about specific scenes and things but as I started to do this I realized it was a bit more personal than I really want to get on the internet. I continue to watch Girls because I’ve been enjoying the broader conversation happening around it, and it’s interesting enough for me to see where it’s going. I think I’m the only one who is interested in Shoshanna, bless. I think the sexual politics of the series are both refreshing and puzzling, and so I’m curious to see where it all goes.

Sansa

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*This post discusses the first season of the TV series and references the first book in passing. There may be some spoilerish content in the comments, so if you are wary of things like that you may want to skip reading the comments.

This is going to be a just a quick post in response to a few things I’ve read in passing about Game of Thrones. I hope to discuss GoT in depth at some point, but for the moment, I’m just going talk a little about Sansa. Pretty, poor, naive Sansa.

In his article over at Ars Technica, Ben Kuchera made a statement in passing about Sansa:

Sansa has never been a sympathetic character, and again the views fall into the neatly laid trap of getting what we wanted. Which is maddening, as we may have hoped something bad would happen to her during the early episodes, but now that Sansa’s in a truly wretched situation it’s hard to watch.

And Charlie Jane Anders remarks in her review of the final episode over at i09:

Take Sansa Stark, who might have been the character people most wanted to see beheaded — well apart from her fiance Joffrey, that is.

In both of these articles, the writers go on discuss the growth Sansa goes through in “Fire and Blood,” and I want to be sure not to mischaraterize their posts as Sansa-bashing, but I am interested in the apparently common response to Sansa and her characterization in the TV series (and in the books really, but I’m going to stick with the tv show here) that these two statements represent.

In line with what I wrote before about Betty on Mad Men, many people find Sansa to be an unlikeable character, and therefore an unsympathetic character. Viewers apparently dislike her so much, they were hoping she’d get her comeuppance – I searched through Twitter for “Sansa die” – that was a fun 5 minutes. I’ve never wished something bad would happen to Sansa, I always knew something bad would happen to her. It felt obvious to me that Sansa, like Ned, believed in honor, chivalry, duty, and that if she just smiled sweetly and did what she was told, everything would work out well. Why would she believe anything different when this is all she has ever learned? She’s a naive teenager, obsessed with living a magical life like the princesses in the songs she loves so much. Sure, this makes her annoying and insufferable, but no more than any moony teenage girl can be annoying and insufferable.

So, I don’t understand how this leads to explicitly rooting for her demise or hoping she gets her head chopped off. She, from the perspective of someone who more readily identifies with Arya, is obviously in the wrong when she relates the details of Nymeria’s protecting Arya, but she’s been put in an impossible position. In Westeros, women are chattel, bought and sold to cement alliances or mollify potential enemies. Her allegiance to her house would be important to her, but her new allegiance would be first to her husband’s house. It would reflect poorly on her to support her sister against her future husband and the future king. Her mother is a perfect example, Catelyn may have been born a Tully, but her marriage made her a Stark.

For me there’s an element of gender and audience identification at play here that it doesn’t seem to have been talked about much. On one hand, Sansa seems to be so easy to hate because, well, she’s such a girl. Not just a girl, but a weak, narcissistic, vapid, and willfully so girlie girl. But really, this is who she was raised to be; her lot in life is be a beautiful, complacent, baby-maker. Sansa is coded as a victim and apparently people hate her for it rather than trying to gain any  understanding what her reality is. The last episode doesn’t create a new situation for Sansa, it just throws light on what her life was always already going to be. On the other hand, there’s a consensus about Arya’s awesomeness. She’s a stereotypical tomboy, trying desperately not to be a girl; her clothes, the “dancing lessons,” and liking to kill fat boys all point to her unwillingness to conform to traditional femininity.

Even though I didn’t like Sansa as a person (as in I wouldn’t want to have a conversation with her over some tea and a lemoncake), I empathized with her by trying to understand the world from her perspective, which makes what Joffrey does to her all that more heartbreaking – poor girl never had any idea what was in store for her. So, I find the vehement and violent dislike of her character a little disconcerting.

As a side note, apart from maybe Bran, of all the POV characters in the book her storyline and perspective feel less developed than the others in their transition from book to screen, which could be due to the source material since even in the first book (I’m only 1/2 way through the second) she feels more like a deconstruction of the fantasy princeess rather than a fully realized character. If they spent as much time on Theon  as they did, surely Sansa could have gotten more screen time at some point.

 

Edited to add: Please try to keep references about anything beyond the aired episodes to a bare minimum. Thanks!

Demons Run

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Apparently, demons run when a good man goes to war, and the Doctor has been cast in the role of platonic good man, except when he’s not and he’s really the monster under the bed you should be afraid of. But I don’t buy it. The stylistic and character changes between Davies era new Who and Moffat era Who make a monstrous Eleven hard to accept. Did it not seem odd to anyone else that “the oncoming storm” was not uttered once, yet this is preciously the Doctor the war* is supposedly being fought against.

When Eleven declares at the end of the Eleventh Hour that the Atraxi should “look him up” and he declares that earth is protected, the aim seemed to be to make a clear link between Ten and Eleven. In “Forest of the Dead” Ten makes a similar statement to the Vashta Narada inhabiting proper Dave’s space suit to also look him up. And when he says these words, I believe the hint of menace behind them, because in the “Christmas Invasion” we learned just what kind of man he was, which was then only further established in “The Runaway Bride” when Donna initially refuses to travel with him because she was afraid of him and what he is easily capable of.

In the spirit of full disclosure here, I am an unabashed Ten fangirl and willing to accept that my willingness to believe the Doctor as a Shiva-esque savior/destroyer on my preference for Ten, but Eleven’s menace doesn’t ring true for me. He’s too much the raggedy doctor who thinks bow ties are cool and fish sticks and custard are the bee’s knees. The way Smith inhabits the role is much too playful and jaunty for “I am the Doctor – fear me” speechifying and grandstanding.  I didn’t buy it in the “Pandorica Opens” and I don’t buy it now. Though this is super awesome.

Of course, Eleven is brilliant, he’s the Doctor, but he’s childlike as well, infused with a more palpable sense of awe and wonder at the universe that both Nine and Ten lacked because they were jaded and suffering from post-traumatic I-destroyed-my-entire-race stress disorder. The final conclusion of angsty and broken Doctor comes in the “Waters of Mars,” when he flouts tradition,** attempts to change history to save innocent lives, and claims the mantel “Time Lord Victorious,” until he’s brought back to himself when Adelaide commits suicide and thus restores the proper timeline. This moment paves the way for the quiet (comparatively speaking) sacrifice he makes in “The End of Time” to save Wilfred and allows Eleven to burst on the scene and joyously exclaim “Geronimo”! ***

There’s a wide-eyed innocence that Smith brings to his portrayal of the Doctor that should be taken advantage of more. I was hoping the fairytale elements would be more about wonder, adventure, friendship, and the things that go bump in the night. I’d much rather seen little Amelia Pond’s adventures with the Doctor through time and space. Instead she was quickly transformed into sexy Amy Pond kiss-o-gram girl in a mini-skirt and pouty lips.**** Instead of fairy-tale wonder and enchantment, we’re getting needlessly convoluted and complex story-lines whose lone purpose seems to be dazzling the audience with the Moffat’s ability to confuse the audience.

Now we’ve had to endure a half-season of set-up for an end game that isn’t completely clear and in which I have less interest. The flesh already feels like a convenient crutch to be trotted out time and again for gotcha moments. If it turns out the Doctor we saw killed in “The Impossible Astronaut” was another flesh copy, I won’t be all that surprised. I do love River Song and hope her story doesn’t get ruined.

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* About which we know very little at all.

** Or the laws of the universe – it’s hard to tell sometimes with Time Lords.

***  The scene in “A Good Man Goes to War” when Madame Kovarian explains that he’s been duped (again) is illustrative of Eleven’s naivety. He looked stunned and perplexed – how could a 900-year-old Time Lord be this dupable?

**** I could rant more about the overly sexualized representation of Amy, but I’ll refrain for the moment and direct you here instead.

Stockholm Syndrome?

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This post is brought to you by the recent special issue of Flow on Aca-fandom.

I suppose I could be called a classic Aca-fan. I decided to write about television partly because it was what I was enthralled with at a certain moment in my academic career. I’ve always tended to towards fannish behavior.  In 1995 during my freshman year of college, I discovered Tori Amos. I died my hair red and afterward made quippy references to Take to the Sky. I collected B-sides from the Internet and any rare singles I could get my hands on. I joined RDTRN (holla!). In 1996, I ran to the music store to buy Boys for Pele the day it came out and saw my first show in October of that year. She played “She’s Leaving Home” and “The Wrong Band” (only played a handful of times ever in her entire career). From that moment on, I became a superfan. It’s safe to say that, for an avid Tori fan, seeing her live for the first time is something akin to a religious experience, and I was converted into the cult of the redheaded fairy queen. Until, and even a little after my son was born, I marked my young adult life with my experiences being a Tori fan (EWF). In 1998, I saw the very first Plugged show; another transcendent experience. I also got married that year, and I don’t know what was more exciting, my wedding or meeting Tori a month later. At this point, I’ve seen Tori over 30 times live, traveled hundred and even thousands of miles away.

When I first began my PhD I had thoughts about doing a ethnographic study of Tori’s fans (where I would need to get used to referring to her as “Amos” instead). There is an interesting intersection in the community between young women, often who have experienced abuse (but not always) and young gay men. My interest in wanting to write about Tori’s fans was a direct outgrowth of my personal experience with the community. My subsequent moving away from active participation into distracted lurking and attending the occasional show, was part of the reason I decided to pursue other projects. But it was also because of  how close I was to my possible object of study that  gave me pause. I was concerned I couldn’t cultivate the distance necessary to do the project justice, even as I thought, if the research was going to be done, it should be done by a fan because the mainstream representation of her fans was almost never kind. It was also, in part, that I didn’t want to kill my experience of being a fan by analyzing it to death.

What does any of this have to do with TV, Erika? I mean get to the point already.

My dissertation essentially came from my obsession with Battlestar Galactica. I spread the good news of BSG and told anyone who’d listen to me just how awesome it was. Shortly thereafter, I began watching Lost, because, hey everyone else seemed to be, and I was immediately struck by the many thematic parallels between the two series and *poof* my project was born. Safe to say, it ended up being almost nothing like what I had originally thought about. Lost and BSG are in there but they share a chapter rather than a complete thesis.

As my project began to take shape, I started to have similar feelings of apprehension in working on these two series, one I was a huge fan of (yes, I used frak in everyday conversations), the other I was a moderate fan of. Since I was working primarily, at the time, on representations of torture, I realized I’d need to expand my research. I needed to watch 24. All of it. I was not pleased about this. I do not like it Sam I am. I complained. I moaned and groaned. And I was embarrassed. Sure, people might giggle a bit when I discussed BSG, but it had gained enough critical clout that I could justify serious research on it. But, 24, well that was a different story. When I said I was watching it, fellow students would cringe and apologize for me. “Oh, that’s awful.” “Why are you doing that to yourself?” But, if I was going to say anything at all about the torture debate, I had to watch 24. What I realized in watching the series was first, that most people who talk about it (in any capacity) haven’t seen very much of it, second, while some seasons were really awful, other seasons are actually good (see, here my inclination was to say decent, lest I indicate that I might have actually enjoyed the series). Maybe my ability to see merit, as opposed to just cultural relevance, in the series is a function of Stockholm Syndrome; I came to love that which imprisoned me. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m a fan of the show, but I would say that my reluctance to engage with it on its own terms came out of my fannish and academic apprehensions about it, and if I had listened to those apprehensions, I think my work would have been far less interesting or relevant.

So, by now, I’m not really sure where all of this is going. I started in one place and ended in another, which is bound to happen, and as this is a blog, I feel no need to correct it. My original sense was that there was some kind of connection between how I saw myself as a possible scholar in relationship to my identity as a Toriphile and how I think of myself as a TV scholar now. I still write about stuff I like, because, well, I can. But I make an effort to not mirror my scholarly interests with my fannish ones. Not to say that those who do, shouldn’t, or anything like that, but that for me, escaping my specific interests has been fruitful.

I think, as TV scholars, we need to continuously approach our object of study is from multiple angles and that, if anything, the questions and concerns surrounding aca-fandom, that it’s not rigorous enough or critical enough, or too elitist, or not elitist enough, etc. throw light precisely on this issue. Why do we write about certain things and not others? Why does the discourse of lowbrow, middlebrow, and highbrow persist? Why is there no work on the cultural phenomenon of the “man cave” a space often exclusively dedicated to the optimal consumption of stuff on a hugely large TV screen? (And maybe there is, and I’m not aware of it, always a possibility – and if you do know of it, please leave a comment). Why do we continue to talk about certain shows way more than others, while the vast amount of television content is ignored?

You should watch Slings and Arrows

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Mild spoilers, if you hate knowing anything about what happens, I suggest you don’t read any further.

Guard: Are you a suicide risk?
Geoffrey Tennant: Isn’t everybody?

I wanted to share a quick recommendation for anyone who’s looking for something short and engaging to watch over the holiday break. If you have Netflix, you can stream all three seasons of Slings and Arrows the Canadian series about the behind the scenes shenanigans of the New Burbage Shakespeare festival and the power of theatre to stir the soul. I can’t think of anything remotely like it on American TV. It’s thoughtful, funny, well written and acted, adult in a non-HBO/Showtime ultra violent/sexualized way, and when one of the character’s dies, he requests his skull be used in all future performances of Hamlet. So, I present to you a quick and dirty list of why you should watch it.

  1. Shakespeare. If you are like me and really enjoy the Bard, and unless your some kind of stodgy purist, Slings and Arrows will repeatedly remind you why his work is wonderful and how it continues to resonate.
  2. It’s hilarious. The humor is often dark and extremely silly at the same time. Death by pig truck!
  3. Ensemble cast. Paul Gross’s nutty genius Geoffry Tennant is the anchor of the series, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say he was its star. Most of them are unlikeable, being self-absorbed theater folks for the most part, but they are a joy to watch. The stage manager, Maria, one of the more minor characters, is fully realized as a person, as are other smaller characters. Anna, one the administrators, is perhaps one of my favorite TV characters ever.
  4. If you like anything remotely meta, then this series might also be your cup of tea, especially the last season, which has a secondary plot concerning television acting, the theater and selling out. Excellent stuff.
Ellen: This isn’t a sitcom.
Geoffery: Oh well yes actually, it is. I have a broken wang and there is a lizard queen living downstairs.

 

 

 

What do we mean when we say we like a character?

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About a week ago, I finished catching up with Mad Men. I had been hesitant about watching it because it was tickling my arbitrary, yet persistent, contrairian streak–everyone else was watching and loving it meant I must avoid it at all costs, or watch it and hate it, just because. It’s childish and silly, and perhaps it would be best not to admit it, but sometimes I dislike things just because everyone else seems to love them.*

Anyway, my partner and I marathoned our way through the series, watching as many episodes an evening as our schedule would allow, and it took us about a month or so to get through. There’s something to be said for this kind of television watching, but I’m not going to do that right now. Now, I want to talk about Betty Draper. Word on the street is that everyone hates her. She’s a terrible mother. January Jones is a terrible actress. Betty’s just all around awful. Sadie over at Tiger Beat Down mounted an excellent defense of her character. You should go read it. I’ll wait…

So, browsing through the comments of the thread something struck me about how people were talking about why they either liked or disliked Betty (see reasons above). Personally, I love Betty. When watching her, I constantly ask myself, how is it possible that a character with no “there” there, can be so fascinating to watch? She’s like a pretty doll, or as the series likes to take great pains to demonstrate, Betty is a child, and not in a fun childlike way, but in a horrible childish way–selfish, obsessed with appearances, and narcissistic. All things women, and especially mothers, should never ever be. But, these characteristics are what make her interesting, well that, and you’re never quite sure what she’s going to do.

So, I like Betty. I liked when she unexpectedly grabbed her son’s BB gun and fired at the neighbors birds. I liked when she was in Rome and she got her hair done in that ridiculously high up-do after seeing a posh Roman woman walk through the hotel in a similar monstrosity. I liked when she sits around in her blue and yellow polka-dotted dress for days after confronting Don about his infidelity. Now, having said all this, when I say, I like Betty, specifically I mean that I like watching her character. What it does not mean is that I think she’s a good person or a admirable human being. She is a terrible person. She is all those things people have claimed she is. Liking her, for me, doesn’t mean I want to hang out and have a cup of coffee with the woman, and that for some people, saying “I like Betty” would mean to them I somehow endorse her mothering style or her penchant for shooting birds, is puzzling to me.**

I suppose I also empathize with her too. Like Sadie points out, she obviously had a horrible mother herself and never learned anything much beyond looking pretty for your husband 101. She’s not a complete idiot, but she lacks any sense of awareness about who she really is, which only makes her seem more like airhead. It’s sad to see someone deal with the complete collapse of everything she thought to be real and true without having recourse to any of the emotional and intellectual resources needed to get through it. That she wants to continue to see her daughter’s psychologist is selfish, sure, but I understand why she’s doing it.

This leads me, in a round-a-about way, to the question: what do you mean when you assert that you like a character? Is some level of identification necessary? It can’t just boil down to simple likability, can it? Some of us like to watch Dexter because, even though he kills people, he’s got a quippy voice over and a tragic past. But in liking Dexter, does that mean I endorse vigilantism? Why is liking a character linked to an endorsement of that character’s choices for some people? I think this is somehow related to the persistent question of representation, as in, it’s not enough to simply have ladies on the screen, but they need to be actual people, not always nice, or hot, or motherly, or whatever. Anyway, this is just something I’ve been mulling over the last week or so and thought it might worth tossing out there to the 8 people who read this.

 

*It’s not a consistent affliction. I unabashedly love the Gaga and various other well-liked things.

**Equally puzzling is that this doesn’t appear to similarly the case when people talk about Don. Don Draper is also a child. He’s selfish, obsessed with appearances, and narcissistic–he and Betty were positively made for and deserve each other. Like Betty, he continually fails to grow as person in any capacity, for better or worse. Having killed off the only person who made him tolerable is unfortunate.

Where my ladies at?

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It’s pilot week in TV land. The Antenna Blog is running a short series on the new network shows, so I decided to jot down a few initial impressions of some new shows.

I decided to watch Lone Star since the TVitterati and critics appear to be in general agreement about it’s lack of suckitude. Another entry into the “likeable sociopaths” genre that’s emerged in recent years, I was not initially interested in the series for some similar reasons Kelli Marshall explained in her blog. The television trailers and print/online ads indicated to me that I was probably not in its target audience despite my affinity for serial television. Having watched the pilot, I’m less perturbed by the generic use of female bodies as accessories (which is always troubling to me) but that we learn more about Bob’s fake wife’s brothers than we do about her. The two women are there purely to flesh out Bob’s character and provide plot motivation – he’s in love, you see. I’ve grown weary of seeing this convention over and over.

The other pilot I screened was Boardwalk Empire. Visually, it was very striking, with deeply saturated rich hues, mahogany interiors and red velvet lips and blood, working in contrast to the muted blue gray of the winter sky and ocean. But it’s another series about dudes doing dudely things. Like with Bob on Lone Star, I wasn’t drawn in by Nucky’s story. Jimmy’s story looks interesting, and I like how his “you can’t be half-gangster” declaration neatly encapsulated the narrative. Todd VanDerWerff is generous in his review to describe Margaret’s arc as central, and I hope it pans out that she takes on a more integral role outside of Nucky’s interest in her, but my fear is that her primary purpose will be love-interest with little interior life of her own. If the other women who appeared in the pilot are any indication, the role of women on the series might be limited to naked girlfriend, naked and dead, or wife. One might think, that in a series with such a large and sprawling set of characters there might be an opportunity to have more female roles. It’s possible to find more intertesting female characters on television than on film these days, and it’s part of television’s appeal for me, but there still aren’t that many to be found.

Both shows do however appear to have possible intersections with my interest in American identity and themes of exceptionalism, so I’ll probably watch them if only for research purposes.

True Blood finale thoughts

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I know I’m a little late to the party. Word on the interwebs is that the season 3 finale of True Blood sucked (best to get the obligatory vampire pun out of the way early).

The entire season has been underwhelming, so it makes sense that the ending would tend toward “meh.” The narrative  was too slow and sprawling, following all the characters in their own, mostly uninteresting directions. On one level, the finale disappointed because it offered no sense of plot convergence. Nothing came together, and in the end everyone was running away. Sookie’s off to fairyland. Jason’s in Hotshot. Sam’s visiting sociopath town. Tara’s gone who knows were. And Lala is halfway in the spirit realm. Hoyt and Jessica want to live happily ever after, but I suspect gun toting Mama and doll obsessed short girl will have something violent to say about that. None of these points are particularly interesting. I’m not interested in seeing Bill and Sophie Ann fight, Matrix style, at the beginning of next season. Side note: the Queen looked amazing in that outfit.

I think I enjoyed this episode more than others because it appears to maybe (hopefully) spell the end of the Sookie <3′s Bill forevah storyline. I’ve read the books, and I’m on Team Eric. Bill Compton is quite possibly the most boring vampire ever. That Sookie continued to stick with him, and was just about to, once again, return to him when Eric dropped the “you know the queen sent him to get you” bomb, has frustrated me all season long. Bill continually treated her like crap and wanted to control her every movement. His desire to kill everyone who knew or would ever know her secret was not endearing or romantic or thoughtful or chivalrous, it was fraking psycho-stalkerish.

Which brings me to the problem I’ve been having with the series in general. Sookie should be the central character. It should be through her perspective that we see and experience her supernaturally infused world. Instead, she the object over which other people argue and fight, a perpetual damsel in distress with no sense of agency or personality.

I’m a not book loyalist, by any means, not killing off Lala, adding baby vamp Jessica, and making Russell wonderfully  insane, have been positive changes, but I do think Ball’s stripped Sookie of what makes her a compelling character in Harris’ books. She’s steadfastly loyal and a quick thinker. Sure, she’s narcissistic but understandably so. Her power has forced her to live so much of her life alone with her thoughts, if only so that she could  filter the constant barrage of unwanted thoughts from everyone else around her. Ball’s Sookie is naive, and her power to read minds is often forgotten until it’s a useful plot device. Does anyone honestly believe she’d change into that silly sun dress and head band after the day and evening she’d just had? She’d shower, crawl into bed, and be very angry with Bill when he showed up on her doorstep at god knows what hour.

Ball kept the addition of the werewolves, but failed to keep what makes them interesting in the story for Sookie. She becomes a valuable asset to the pack and is respected by them (unless they dislike her for spoiling her plans). Alcide is a momentary temptation, but nothing ever really happens. They become friends, which proves to be a more interesting relationship then if they had gotten together. On the series, Alcide’s just one more dude who’s into Sookie. And the fairy plot line has just become a distraction instead of adding and interesting, if albeit silly explanation for a few things. Chalk this up to me being bitter with Claudine’s complete miscasting. Now all I can think is how awful the actress was on the terrible last season of Robin Hood.

The decision to go with a more ensemble feel rather than keeping with the first-person narrative framing of the novels felt like a good choice in the first season, but the addition of more characters and more plot lines has not done the series any favors since then. There’s too much going on now, without any sense that the stories are related beyond a very tenuous thematic link. For me, the successful ensemble series is one that can integrate divergent arcs together. I wonder how  True Blood would have fared if it had taken a note from Dexter, another series adapted from books with a strong first-person presence. The first-person perspective limits the narrative to some degree, but in the long run, our identification with one primary point of view brings all the divergent lines together. But, these are just some random observations that I’d need to give more thought.

John Locke was a sucker

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I came to Lost after watching the first season on DVD a short time before the second season aired. I immediately fell in love. It began as an odd engaging story about an interesting group of characters. The writers threw monkey wrenches into the castaway narrative and tapped into cultural anxieties and preoccupations with subjects like torture and technophobia. The world was rich and the puzzles were interesting. As the series has worn on, it has lost that initial flare. Season three meandered around; then it found its footing again in season four (after it was given a future end point to aim for). Season five’s detour into the past and Faraday’s version of a “time wimey wibbly wobbly” universe was an interesting narrative twist that allowed the story to stay fresh while also pushing it forward to something big.

Though the story had remained intriguing enough on its own, the ball was dropped when it came to character development. Love interests shifted, new characters were introduced to keep things lively, but the original lostaways stagnated. Kate runs away. Jack has daddy issues and a fix it fetish. Hurley is meta. Sun loves Jin. Jin loves Sun and learns English. Sayid is tortured by his past as a torturer (so clever!). Sawyer is a savvy con man with a heart of gold, and so on. These are all things we learned about them in season one. Here we are now, in season six, and no one has changed. It’s telling to me that the most interesting and engaging characters, Desmond, Ben, and Richard (his episode this season was a noteworthy highpoint) are not part of the original group of castaways.

Season six continues to lack momentum with regard to the characters; even in the sideways universe everyone is essentially the same. But aside from my issues with the lack of character growth, last night’s episode crystallized for me what’s been lacking in throughout all of season six.

Last night on Lost, Jack and notLocke finally had a chat. After first exchanging meaningful gazes illuminated by eerie torchlight  (where do they come from – btw), the MIB revealed why he chose Locke for his grand plan, which essentially boiled down to Locke’s misplaced faith that he had a destiny, that he was special, and that the Island needed him. But really he was just a sucker, an easily manipulated sad sack of a little man, who was used and abused his entire life. Don’t tell him what to do but tell him he’s special and he’ll do anything you want. Now, this could all end up changing in the last few hours of the series and Locke might prove himself heroic in the end (maybe in the sideways world), but as it stands at the moment, John Locke is sad little man. “John Locke was not a believer. He was a sucker.”

When FauxLocke* declared this to Jack, I realized I also felt like a sucker. There’s been a conversation going on between the people who want answers and the people who are content with watching characters they know and love trying to finally find whatever it is they’re going to find. I’m firmly entrenched in the latter camp, and have always been more interested in how Lost told its stories and the central mystery: what is the island? For me, this is the key and was set up in the pilot when Charlie asks “Guys where are we?”) and how Lost told its stories (flashbacks, forwards, and across time).** We’ve learned some answers this season, the Island is a like a cork in a wine bottle keeping darkness (evil?) from the world. Okay, I can get behind that. But where’s the tension. What exactly are the stakes? What really will happen if the Smoke Monster is unleashed into the world? What’s Widmore’s stake in all of this, and why isn’t there more of Eloise because she is awesome? The danger doesn’t feel real. The end of world very well might be nigh, but Jacob and Widmore are  vague about what that might actually mean. Each episode, the game continues as pieces move around the board, and it’s all supposed to be leading to an explosive finale. Except all the moves have been boring and even predicable. Lost had always been exciting. Season six just hasn’t been exciting to watch. Even The Last Recruit’s big explosions were boring.

I also have trouble buying the argument that though it might seem slow and not adding up to much right now, it will all make sense in the end and be awesome when you watch it on DVD later. I want it to be awesome now. I’ve spent a lot of time with Lost. It was a major case study in my dissertation. But right now, I feel a little like John Locke. I believed it would all be worth it in the end, but really, I feel like a sucker. I never hoped that all the questions would be answered. It doesn’t bother me that we’ll never learn what was special about Walt, or about any of the other countless other mysteries and red herrings thrown into the mix. Just take me on an exciting adventure and I’ll be happy.

*All of the different names for the MIB/Locke are fun. Why not use as many as possible?

** Despite initially also being drawn in by certain characters.

Initial thoughts about HBO’s Treme

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As an admirer of David Simon’s The Wire, (I wouldn’t say I’m a fan) I decided to watch his new series, Treme co-created with Eric Overmyer. Though I didn’t have much initial interest in it, in my post-dissertation submission haze I thought, why not? So, Monday morning I settled in and watched the pilot.

Here are some observations about things that occur early in the pilot, which give the viewer a sense of the show’s narrative and aesthetic. Treme has a documentary quality and feel, as though we are expected to forget that it’s a fictional narrative and become immersed in the reality of post-Katrina New Orleans. The coverage here links the series to the geography of the city and its people. The Times Picayune coverage compliments Treme‘s opening sequence, which a montage of archival film footage and photographs, still images depicting moldy walls and waterlines, and snippets of Katrina news coverage. Strung together they indicate the blurring of boundaries between past and present, both the past and present of the life of New Orleans as a city, as well as the present 5 years post-Katrina world and the immediate past of “3 Months After.” There’s also an incongruity between the bouncy “Treme Song” and the images.

The scene just prior to the opening credits of the preparations for the first post-flood second line is dominated by a series of close-up shots and indicating that Treme will be about the small daily lives of the people of New Orleans.

Creighton Bernette (John Goodman), who is based on blogger Ashley Morris, is interviewed by an insufferable British documentarian who suggests that New Orleans is no longer a great city “worth saving.” It goes a bit meta when Creighton asserts, “the media … likes a simple narrative they and their listeners can get their tiny brains around.” Treme‘s complex, nuanced, and fictionalized narrative will fill in the gaps of simplistic media narratives. This is a conceit The Wire had, which raises questions about representation, realism, their relationship to television and news media.

My biggest hope for Treme was that it would feature more female characters than The Wire. Based on the pilot, it looks like  LaDonna (Khandi Alexander), Janette (Kim Dickens), and Toni (Melissa Leo) will have major roles, though they are all linked to other male characters as wife, ex, or “friends with benefits.” According to this wiki – Goodman was added to the cast last, interesting, since he’s given such a strong voice so early in the episode.

On the whole, the pilot presented us with a lose amalgamation of interrelated people working through their lives after Katrina. The mirco-narratives read like documentary vignettes and work more to establish its sense of  realism and documentary feel rather than establishing any, as yet, tangible story. There’s music and an attempt to paint a picture of the New Orleans as the main character, but it felt forced and a bit self-conscious. Granted, it’s a pilot, so perhaps my expectations are too high, but I think, to keep my interest, Treme is going to need more than atmosphere and music to keep me interested. I have the hope that it eventually will.