Thursday, July 11, 2013

What I'm Watching: Finales

As I’ve stated before, one of the great joys of summer is getting caught up on things.  This last week, for example, I finally managed to get through three different season finales, the final word on the current season of each of the shows.




I’m talking about this one first because I had the farthest to go on this show. When the finale actually aired, I had eight episodes left to watch, out of the back ten.  If it were a great show, I probably could have gotten through it in a week.  And yet, it took me until July to get to the end.


Yeah, that says something.


I’ve been kicking the show back and forth with a buddy of mine.  He finally gave up and deleted all the episodes he hadn’t seen off of his DVR.  He may try to watch the show again next season, when the dust has settled and a few new writers (in particular, Ben Edlund of Angel and Supernatural fame) are in place.


Mostly what I’ve been trying to figure out is what makes the show so very broken.  It has a good budget, and surprising amount of action, and most of the actors are good and a couple are great.


The truth is, you can find problems with just about any show if you look long and hard enough.  But I think the problem with this show was less obvious than critics made it out to be.


Namely: There was a lot of story, but no strategy.


What I mean:


A good piece of entertainment has characters with a plan.  They are going to go here and do this thing, and then there are complications.


The problem is, the people on this show never seemed to have any plans.  At least, not ones that we were privy to.  When they had plans, they were kind of dopey, and when someone tried to beat someone else at their own game, there was never any strategy – they just barged in and had a fist/gun/knife fight.


An example:


Supreme Bad Guy decides he wants to stop Miles, who sort of became the protagonist of the show when they realized that Fake Katniss couldn’t act.  (More on that in a moment.)


So what does he do?  He goes to the city they grew up in, rounds up all the people that live there, and says he’s going to kill them all if Miles doesn’t show up.


So Miles shows up, and much gunplay ensues.


Somewhere in there, they introduce a female character who was in a relationship of sorts with both men.  When Bad Guy has a gun to her head, she confesses that Bad Guy has a son (with her).  Then she gets shot and dies.


Miles saves the town (somehow, sort of) and the episode ends. 


All of this sounds semi-exciting, I guess, but everyone on the show demonstrates a curious case of the stupids.


I think that, right there, is the big issue.  Sci-fi shows, at least ones that last, are smart.  Star Trek put forth moral dilemmas between the fistfights, and generally (generally!) smart answers to questions posed and dangers faced.


Ditto Firefly.  


There are twists and turns on Revolution, and some of them are pretty great.  But in cases like this, they’re revealed in the worst possible way.  And then, largely dropped.  After this episode, the “son” was only mentioned in one other episode that I can recall, and even then it mostly felt like a writer holding up his hand, and going, “See!?  We remembered!”


All of it could have been handled better.  Miles could have put together a special strike team, and gone in with an actual plan.  He could have run off by himself to save his town.  He could have mentioned some hidden component of the city the Bad Guy didn’t know about.  Only, SURPRISE, he did know.  Okay, then you have a gunfight, but at least someone did something smart first.


Even the son thing could have worked.  She could have used it as a negotiating tactic to get the rest of the town free.  Instead, a game-changing revelation was turned into pointless factoid doled out for some cheap “drama” that didn’t work.


The point is, the bits and pieces that could make the show work are there, but they’re being mixed wrong.  It’s like making a cake and frosting and baking the frosting but not the cake.  All the parts are there for it to work, but the proper directions weren’t followed.


There are other issues.


The show is pretty humorless, which makes the characters less than fun to hang around.  This is sad, because when the show IS funny, it’s impressively funny.  Miles firing a very loud gun, giving away their position, and saying, “Maybe no one heard that” isn’t high humor, maybe, but it at least indicated that something had gone very wrong in a fun way.


And then the acting.  Oh, the acting.  Mostly it’s Fake Katniss who, unfortunately, brings almost nothing to the table at this point.  Once upon a time, my wife and I watched a Cleopatra movie where the title character was neither super attractive (which is what Cleopatra was known for) and also lacked any acting chops.  I noted at the time that she could be one or the other, but she couldn’t be both because it just plain sank the production.


They’ve slowly moved Charlie from the center of the show to the far edges, trying to shrink her importance, but this means every scene with her has to land emotionally, and they don’t.  They’ve also taken to dressing her in shirts that show off an inch of tummy, which is strange because everyone is in jackets and appears to be at least a little cold, so whatever eye candy they’re trying to create becomes, “Don’t you need a sweater?”


The Big Bad has also become a problem as well, having mostly been forced to appear a) crazy, b) paranoid, or c) both at the same time no matter what he’s saying.  They’ve tried to give him an emotional core, but the dialogue and story just isn’t up to it, so he mostly looks confused, with large glassy eyes.


Could all this be fixed?


I question that.  They’ve put themselves in an interesting position where they turned the power back on, but the show didn’t really talk about what that MEANS.  There are rockets headed for major cities, but we don’t really know what that MEANS.


Some people are dead, but we don’t really know what that MEANS.


Revolution has been moved to a new, unprotected time slot next year, which means it’s going to need to a) get critics behind it fast and b) get people to watch fast.  This can be done, I’m sure, if they start right off the bat to make the show smarter and more logical, and start working on getting us to actually enjoy hanging out with the characters.


But they’ve got to do it in one episode.  Two, tops.


Otherwise, I suspect the show will run for a half-season next year, and then vanish without a trace.


Best of luck, Kripke.  If things don’t work out, maybe you can go run reason 10 of Supernatural?


The Walking Dead:


Meanwhile, Dead is filming their fourth season, and with their fourth new showrunner.


And I pity that guy, because he’s going to follow the best year the show is going to have, at least as far as the fans are concerned.


I don’t think season 3 was perfect, mind you.  I have issues, minor and major, with the show in general.  It’s still a show with no real logical endpoint outside of “everyone dies.”  The characters aren’t all that fun to hang out with.  And the lack of humor is, quite often, grating.  Grim is cool and all, but a little levity never killed anyone.


The issue we’re facing now is that any new protagonists will, essentially, just get compared to the Governor.  So that’s kind of out.


Alternately, the show becomes “Argument Prison,” a sequel to the Argument Farm of season two.


No one wants that.  At all.


Unfortunately, I think the show only has one major card to play, and if the showrunner is smart, he’ll play it.


It comes in two parts.


First, the rule of the comic is, Rick always lives.  So I’d kill the dude off.


This creates ACTUAL tension, as opposed to fake tension.  Rick is the hero – he isn’t supposed to die.


(Frankly, the real hero, the only character EVERYONE likes is Daryl.  But you can’t kill him.  It’d be like killing The Fonz.  Or Urkel.  It’s a gutsy move, yes, but no one will ever do it because that’s killing the golden goose.)


So take out Rick.  Boom.  Massive power vacuum, everyone is trying to figure out who should lead.


Next, have the zombies pile up outside the prison, which means they need a new home.  They can’t drag everyone (too many elderly and infirm now). So they send out scouts:


Boom Part 2: Daryl on a Motorcycle.  Put him in combination with any other character, and give him a third of every show. 




Granted, that makes season five a train wreck waiting to happen, but most shows start to go off the rails by season five. 


(Of course, they’re already SHOOTING season four, so no one is going to listen to this… even if I wrote it months ago.  But them’s my thoughts.)


A last amusing note.  I had two episodes of the show on the DVR, and put them off for months, and then I watched the first episode… and it was the finale.  The “second” episode was a randomly recorded repeat.


Given the semi-cliffhanger status of the last episode, it was a pretty wobbly season closer. 


Still, best season of the show to date.  Things are going to be interesting, come fall.


Warehouse 13:


This one stings.


So it’s been announced that the next season of Warehouse 13 will be a scant six episodes, and that it will also be the last season of Warehouse 13.


But all accounts this was/is the highest rated show on the SciFi (because I hate that other spelling) channel, and this is how they treat it?


No.  I kid.  The fact is, shows end for a lot of reasons, most of them fiscal.  Given the number of ways they’re desperately trying to horn advertising onto the show (most with cars, oy, the cars and their features) it’s possible they just can’t justify spending the money on the show.


That’s a shame, really, because while I thought there was no way they could pull off a solid end to this season after the steady ramping of the first half of the season, well… Okay, I was mostly right.


But forget being right, in this instance. 


The writers took a few episodes off to save a little money and try to dip into the emotional scope of what’s happened over the course of the season, and they did a nice job of it.  Perhaps with a bit more of a budget they could have rollicked and frolicked more, but I don’t blame them for that.


Then they did a pretty cool buildup over the last two or three episodes, preparing to fling themselves into another massive storyline next season.  They were prepped and ready to do twenty hours of TV.


And now they have… six.


Talk about anticlimactic.


Ultimately, I guess I should be glad we’re getting those six.  A lot of great shows have ended on a question mark, and Warehouse, thankfully, doesn’t have to be one of them.  They’ll cram a lot of story into a little timeline next year, and after six episodes, the show will vanish with a soft poof, and fans like myself will mourn it.


That’ll do, Warehouse.  That’ll do.

Iffy People, Great Art



(Note: I wrote this, and then I kind of hated it, so I didn’t post it for a while.  I still think it makes a few interesting points, but… well, if you want to read it, here it is.)


Lately I’ve been struggling with the idea of bad people making good art.


Why write about it?  I dunno.  I’ve learned over the years that it’s often easier for me to set my thoughts down so I can look at them on paper (or, yeah, on the screen) and then go back over them, tweaking them, checking my arguments, and trying to parse out what I really feel about them as ideas, separate from the space in my head.


What I guess I mean is, it’s easier to examine some things as AN idea, as opposed to MY idea.


I imagine there are some who will assume this has to do with the whole Paula Deen scandal, or whatever it is.  But no.  I’ve been watching people on my Facebook page take sides for or against her, but I don’t really know anything about her, don’t use her recipes, and don’t really care all that much one way or another if she loses her cooking show.


Nothing against her, I just don’t care.


No, I think the first time I ever got at least mildly interested in The Art vs. The Man situation is when a bunch of sci-fi aficionados decided to get all in a tizzy over the fact that Orson Scott Card wasn’t quite as progressive as they wanted him to be.

I refuse to rehash that whole thing because, much like Paula Deen, Orson isn’t someone I’m all that much of a fan of.  I read Ender’s Game, and I thought it was a lot of somewhat-interesting philosophy with some cool battle school scenes tucked into it.


Then I read Speaker for the Dead, the followup, and found it to be a painful philosophical slog. It was a long book wherein so little happens I can barely recall the plot.


But other people cared deeply about these stories, and they were let down by Orson’s stance, and many of them swore they’d never read any of his books again, but clearly it’s not hurting the guy because Ender is about to become a major motion picture and the Ender books continue to sell pretty much without ceasing.  He continues to write sequels and prequels and side-quels and all of them sell.


So in the end, I let my brain cycles to other things that weren’t worry about Orson.


Should I be more bothered about it?  That’s another valid question, but let me come back to it.


The first time I encountered true ugliness with an artist I actually cared about, it was Lindsey Buckingham.


That much I’ve written about before, though it was a few years ago.  An ex-girlfriend of his wrote a book that said he was on a lot of drugs, verbally abusive, and even physical with her at times.


The thing about Lindsey is, for better or worse, he’s an icon of rock.  Fleetwood Mac sold millions of records with him in the group, and they continue to rake in money whenever he heads back into the group.


Oddly, this is after Mick Fleetwood threw him under a bus post Tango in the Night.  He said things happened that Lindsey claimed didn’t, and the thing of it is, everything could sort of be argued to a draw.  Two angry men saying, “You don’t remember, you were on drugs!”  “No, you don’t remember, YOU were on drugs!”


But the ex-girlfriend book seemed to be carefully researched, and more interestingly, Lindsey didn’t pop up to deny it.


Though maybe he just never heard of it.  Or, like most people have to, he just let his ex say whatever she had to say, and didn’t bother to correct her because it was almost thirty years in the past.


That one bothered me for a while, and still bothers me now.  I can barely tolerate Orson’s work, but Lindsey was, if not an influence on my own music, a guy whose albums I used to listen to over and over again.  That the book “Storms” claimed that many of the lyrics of Go Insane, one of my favorite albums, were stolen from the author of the book, really bugged me.


And yet, new Linsdey music came out after I read the book, and I bought it, and I enjoyed it.  I didn’t get rid of my old Fleetwood Mac albums, and I didn’t stop listening to him or the band.


And even now, I’m not totally sure how to justify that.


I can come up with one argument, which is that the story is being told by one person.  It’s not a trial with a bunch of witnesses, it’s one woman so jilted by one man that she felt compelled to drag up the dirt between them three decades later.


Is everything she said true?  Perhaps.  But even if it is, these aren’t things that happened a month or a week or a year ago.  These are things that happened 30 years ago.  It’s very possible that, away from the drugs, away from the tours, Lindsey became a better man.  Perhaps he long ago tried to make restitution.


I have no idea.


Most recently, I’ve had two other artists with questionable choices brought up.


The first is Frank Zappa, and musician I’d argue is somewhere in my top three when it comes to my music collection.  I own a lot of his stuff, and enjoy a lot of his stuff, and…


And boy, is some of it dating poorly on the good taste front.


The thing of it is, in college, I liked the guy because he was funny and thoughtful.  And in college I really learned to respect the musicianship, the sheer breadth of his composition.  I was equally fascinated by his philosophy, which mostly seemed to be, “People are stupid.”


But man, some of the things he said in song…


Straight up, some of it is really, really sexist.  And a surprisingly large chunk of it also reads as homophobic. And yet, his take was always, “Well, I’m not singing this stuff, it’s these characters I’ve created…”


But man.  I dunno.


The thing of it is, I have a kid now.  And it’s a she.  And when I pick up Zappa’s records, I sometimes question if he had the best interests of the female population at heart.




Zappa argued that kids should be able to listen to anything, and to some extent I get that.  Kids live in the same world they live in, and they’re going to be exposed to bad words, bad thoughts, bad intentions.  They need to learn to understand what’s appropriate.


And yet?  And yet.


And yet.


Ultimately, I just don’t listen to Zappa very much anymore.  I put music on in my car for the most part, and Zappa just isn’t something I want to stick in my kid’s head.  Assuming Zappa was really being satirical, well, most kids don’t get satire.


Perhaps when she’s older she’ll find some of it funny.  But more likely, I’ll have to shrug and give the, “It was a different time” speech.


Except, of course, that for some people it’s not a different time.


I became a fan of Mike Doughty more or less by accident.  The way you hear a word for the first time, and then hear that word five or six more times over the next two days?  It was like that.


I got one of his songs on the Veronica Mars soundtrack, and I dug it.  And I happened to read about his records on Wil Wheaton’s blog.  And my curiosity grew, and I got his first three albums for Christmas.


And it was good, y’know?  I liked the songs, liked the style, and found myself singing along and having a good time.


And then I learned there was more, if you went backwards.  He had a band, Soul Coughing, and those guys?  Man, it was a weird little thing he called Deep Slacker Jazz, with a bass, drums, and sampler, and off kilter beat poetry.


It was so cool. 


More records came out but I ultimately never picked them up.  By all accounts, his albums after that kind of went off the rails.  And I was a little broke.  But I’d do things like check in on his blog.




And where am I going with this?


In one of my check-ins, I discovered he had written an autobiography: The Book of Drugs.  And I was curious.


As autobiographies go, it takes you to a weird place.  There are no chapters, no breakdowns of theme, it’s just Mike writing about things in a rough order as they occur to him.


But man, it’s an ugly picture of a human being.


What’s interesting is that Mike pulls no punches, and even throws a few that aren’t necessary.  He never actually tells you the name of anyone in the band.  The bass player is just that: The Bass Player.  Never mind that this was a fairly popular band, and that guy’s name is easy to find.


Once he quits the band, he goes on a few benders and, among other things, goes to Ethiopia.  I mentioned this to my wife, who asked if she should read the book.  “Not if you want to like the guy,” I said.


What’s odd is that after reading the book, even though I couldn’t say I really liked the guy, did make me want to pull out his recordings again.  I spent a week rocking out to Mike and, more interestingly, the band he hated so much.


I Googled Mike and read a half-dozen interviews and articles about him, many of which included interviews with his band-mates that went, basically, “All the stuff he said we did were actually things HE did.”


And then Mike did something odd.  Despite the fact that he says he hates all the old songs, and the memories they bring back… he’s decided to re-record some of them.


He crowdfunded the endeavor, and now he’s recording, and the record is getting pretty close to done.


And by cracky, I chipped in.


I’m still not totally sure why I did this.  Curiosity, I suppose.  Mike says multiple times in the book that the songs came out “wrong,” and that he had/has a very clear idea how they were supposed to go.  And I gotta admit, I really want to hear those versions.


And so I question myself.  Because I didn’t even really try to justify it.  I just really wanted to hear it.


When it comes down to it, the more I type the more I feel like maybe I don’t need to justify it.


The thing of it is, the world is filled with people whose life choices I just don’t agree with.


These are not dictators, or people who endangered children or tortured pets.  Ultimately, they said some things and did some things in the past that I don’t agree with.


I mean, a lot of composers of the last 1000 years have probably done things I just didn’t dig on.  And yet, I don’t listen to Beethoven and question my moral judgment.


In the case of Zappa, he was 53 when he died, and he’d be 73 today.  If the Beastie Boys can come around and determine that some of their lyrical choices were questionable, perhaps Zappa would have revised his feelings on some of his work.


(For that matter, Stephen King finally took one of his own books out of print due to some of the content.  I don’t know if that’s a win, either.)


Ultimately, my knowledge of the various composers and performers I enjoy is for the most part extremely limited.  I own work by hundreds of musical artists, and listen to hundreds more, and most of them don’t have a definitive biography and/or autobiography I can examine for things that make their soul ugly.


The artist makes the art, it’s true.  But then the art becomes a separate thing. 


Sometimes the art is kind of gross, and you have to decide if the art around it is worth your time.  (Joe’s Garage is pretty skeevy in places, but the instrumental Watermelon in Easter Hay is gorgeous). 


Sometimes the person around the art did some things you just can’t get behind.  But if Lindsey Buckingham spent all those years stoned, he might not even know what he did, or what he was doing.  And while that’s on him, one thing I didn’t find much of in the book were people trying to STOP him from doing it.


Ultimately, maybe William Shatner got it right.  In one of his multiple memoirs he says the chances that he’ll remember everything correctly is impossible, because he didn’t have four video cameras running every second to capture each moment in the book.


For that matter, Harlan Ellison (a noted crank) said that Shatner told a story that was essentially a flat-out lie.


People do things wrong.  People are sometimes wrong.


And yet, the art is the art. Ultimately, I chose to read and investigate personal information that told me things I didn’t want to hear.


And when the people who made the art are dust, the art will remain.


And who they were won’t matter.


And perhaps that’s just how it is.