The Art of the Watchable

I like good political TV. If done well, I like politics both as a theme and as a setting; arguably, a series such as the original BBC House of Cards looks like it’s about politics, but it’s really Richard III in a pinstripe suit, set in and around Westminster. It’s very much concerned with power and corruption, but does it tell us anything meaningful about politics? You may very well say think that; I couldn’t possibly comment. Then there are series such as The West Wing, and while may be something of a US-centric liberal fantasia, it is intensely concerned, and not a little in love, with the democratic process, which makes it a very different beast from House of Cards. Even if you look beyond conventional drama to genre TV, you’ll find politics: for much of its running time, I’d absolutely say that Battlestar Galactica (the Olmos/McDonnell one, not the ’70s extravaganza) was a deeply political series in both senses.

Spin Continue reading

Until all that’s left over is the question mark

I don’t know. It’s a mystery.
— Tom Stoppard,
Shakespeare in Love

Remember the days when we were all wondering what was down that hatch and what the hell those numbers meant? (I sometimes can’t remember what I ate the previous evening, but I will be able to list those damn numbers on my deathbed: 4, 8, 15, 16…) Remember when we were itching to find out more about Jacob, or the Others, or what the hell that black fog creature was? And remember those last couple of seasons that basically mocked us for wanting to know by saying, “Answers? Answers are for dummies. Have a trite, saccharine scene in a church instead.”

Lost Continue reading

My HDTV runneth over

Today I finally became the proud owner of a digital TV set-top box. I haven’t really checked it out that much yet, but it finally allowed me to see the Future of TV. More pixels. Full HD. And lots of other terms that basically boil down to “Let’s let the boys play a bit, shall we?”

So far I’ve checked out three of the HD offerings: HD Suisse, BBC HD and lastminute.tv. The latter was basically a glorified travel ad for last-minute trips, BBC was showing some nature documentary and HD Suisse was broadcasting a classical concert. Not exactly the most exciting programming imaginable. But I was sitting there going, “Wow, look at that image, you can read every semiquaver on that violinist’s sheet music, and even his notes, and check out that Capuchin monkey. see how every single hair on its head is visible? And that cheap, computer-generated price tag for the hotel, you can hardly make out any aliasing on it! This is what TV is all about!” (Okay, that last one is even more wildly exaggerated than the other examples.)

 

If they actually showed Lost or Battlestar Galactica in Full HD, chances are my brain would implode and I’d end up a drooling imbecile. Right now I don’t drool yet.

And my girlfriend’s reaction? “Cool, they’re showing Doctors on BBC!”

Talking about the future of this and pixelly goodness that, the latest entry in the AV Club‘s “My Year of Flops Case File” is a highly enjoyable panning of Speed Racer, latest proof that the Wachowski siblings’ worst movie may not have been a Matrix sequel. Share and enjoy!

The sound of inevitability (brought to you by Jimi Hendrix)

Apparently, lots of people hated the season 3 finale of Battlestar Galactica. They hated the Big Twist (Baltar’s “not guilty” verdict”!), followed by a Big Twist (four of the Final Five revealed!), followed by a Big Twist (Starbuck’s back! And she’s got this weird serene smile on her face!), followed by, well, not so much a Big Twist as a Surprise Reveal: Earth… although is this Earth 2008 A.D. or Earth 10’000 BC? Is it post-apocalyptic Earth, or will the Galactica arrive to cause the extinction of the dinosaurs? Will it bump into the USS Enterprise on one of its time-travelling jaunts?

Star Trekking,/Across the universe...

Whatever will happen, the BSG writers have quite a big task ahead of them. Personally, I loved “Crossroads”, the season finale, but that was mostly due to its sheer audacity, mixed with the fantastic editing and musical choices, as well as the acting which sold the outrageous events to me 100%. But if they don’t resolve many of the open questions in the remaining twenty-something episodes, then my appreciation of their audacity may very well turn into “What the frak were they thinking?!” Still – the last 10 minutes of “Crossroads, pt. 2” had my heart pounding. I’m not talking metaphorically here – everything from the blackout to the congregation of the four to the sitar-heavy strains of “All Along the Watchtower” to Lee realising who’s flying on his left to the final zoom out and reveal of what the survivors have been hoping to find for three years now, all of that got my pulse racing. And since I’d read spoilers (stupid me, I know…) I knew what was coming – yet the way it was directed, filmed and edited made what happened on the TV screen feel inevitable, for want of a better word. Especially the reveal of the four should’ve felt random, because with at least three of the four there hasn’t really been any foreshadowing – but instead, it felt like puzzle pieces finally falling into place, at least for me.

This is my body... and what a body it is

Of course “Crossroads” has raised a couple of questions that will be difficult to answer to our satisfaction. I don’t believe they would have pulled such an audacious number of rabbits out of their hats if they didn’t know what they’re doing, but that’s just me being an optimist. How will they resolve these things? Will they even have time to resolve them?

  • The final Cylon: is it Starbuck? After all, we did watch her Viper go all kablooie, yet here she is, and in a spick-and-span ship, no less. Or is it Prez Roslin? We did see her share a vision with two Cylons, and she seemed to sense the blackout of the fleet (which also affected the Cylon ships, it would seem) moments before it happened. (For the record: I don’t think that either of those two will turn out to be the final Cylon. It’d be too obvious.)
  • If Chief Tyrol, Anders, Tori and Tigh are indeed Cylons, are they the same kind of Cylons as the many-copied ones? Do they have multiple copies? If they die, are they resurrected? They are clearly as much of a mystery to the seven more common Cylon models as to the humans. Now that the switch has been flicked, is there more programming in store for them? Any Boomer-shoots-Adama moments waiting for us?
  • For that matter, the series implied at the beginning that the humanoid Cylons were something of a novelty and unknown before the destruction of the twelve colonies. Yet Tigh goes back to the first Cylon war and before, unless he’s a copy of an original human Tigh. But then again, the Cylons seem to have links to the mythology and religion of the colonists, and those go back thousands of years. We were originally led to believe that man created tinbox Cylons, they rose against man in the first Cylon war, there was an armistice, in the interim the toasters evolved into something more organic (yet the Cylon Raiders are semi-organic, so perhaps there was a biological component to Cylonity from the first – and that may well go back even further than the chromedomes). We were never explicitly told that this was true, mind you – and most likely, the writers will make use of that gap in what we know. They’ll have to. Unless they’ve got some clever-clogs flashy thing that they can transmit through our TV screens to make us forget. (Ed.: They do. It’s called ‘reality television’.)
  • So, what about Baltar and his head-Six? Is she real? Is she a delusion? Same with Six’s head-Baltar. What are they manifestations of? Which leads us to the final question…
  • The Cylon God. How does he figure into all of this?

I’m not saying that all of these questions will have to be answered. In some ways, I’m probably more answered in the smaller-scale fallout of the revelations. How will Callie react if she finds out her husband and the father of her child is a toaster? How will Starbuck react to Anders’ Cylonity, for that matter? Or Adama to Tigh’s? But these issues have been raised now over the course of three seasons. They need to be addressed in one way or another, lest we get some disappointing cop-out ending. Chances are that whatever ending they give us, some of the fans will think it’s a cop-out. They already thought that season 3 was too much of a turn-around – too much metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, not enough hot ship-on-ship action. To which I say: what series have they been watching? The metaphysical elements, while not as whoa-inducing, perhaps, were there from season 1. Anyway, enough jabbering from me. I’ll leave you for the moment with two YouTube videos that, at this point, are probably pretty inevitable. Enjoy!

Reaping the whirlwind

Battlestar Galactica is an odd sci-fi series. On the one hand, it’s much more down to earth than any other series in the genre; in terms of the world it depicts and the atmosphere it evokes, it is remarkably un-SF. Life aboard the Galactica doesn’t seem to be that different from life on some 21st century aircraft carrier (except for the lack of blue sky, fresh air, water and a home port, that is).

At the same time, though, it is perhaps the series I’ve seen that is most interested in metaphysical issues, sci-fi or not. And at least for some of the fans, this element has become too dominant in series 3. I won’t say anything more, because not everyone reading this blog knows how season 3 ends (bode, bode)… but suffice it to say, things go in a direction that makes it impossible to ignore the metaphysical strains of the series as an aberration and that BSG is really about space warfare and about man vs. robot.

Cylon & Garfunkel

***Warning: Spoilers for “Maelstrom” to follow. If you don’t know what happens and are interested: all three seasons of BSG are available on DVD! What’s keeping you here? Go to Amazon and buy, buy, buy! Or get it on Netflix, if my cheap consumerist less-than-subliminal messages fail to do their dirty job on your synapses.***

“Maelstrom”, better known as “the episode in which Starbuck goes kablooey (and this time not in a metaphoric way)”, does something interesting with the metaphysical world of Battlestar Galactica. Are we watching a long, drawn-out suicide that is couched by Starbuck’s mind in spiritual/psychological gobbledegook, because she is too much in denial to face her death wish? After all, much of the series has shown us just how self-destructive she is. Or is there something to Leoben-or-is-he? and his allegations of Kara Thrace’s special destiny? Is there a Cylon Heavy Raider ducking in and out of the clouds – or is it but a Raider of the mind, conjured up by Starbuck’s constantly eroding psyche? (Good thing they didn’t throw Birnam Wood at her while they were at it.)

In search of a bad cover band

Either option is possible – but just like we don’t know about the Final Five, or what exactly Baltar’s mind-Six is (a delusion or a chip?) or the Cylon God, we are denied an answer about Kara, as her Viper goes kerSPLAT! right in front of Apollo’s eyes. Are the series creators intent on frustrating us? Are they, as the characters might put it, frakking with us? Or do they, as they claim about the Cylons, have a plan?

Do Cylons play “Trick or Treat”?

Her name is Bambi?

Nope, but it might as well be… Okay, what on earth am I talking about? Grey’s Anatomy season 4, which just started over here.

I’ll get it out of the way first and foremost. I basically like Grey’s Anatomy. I like watching many of the characters, and usually, when it gets too soppy, I just bite my tongue until the next time Christina or Bailey are back on screen and then I’m okay. However, I got very tired of the non-medical soap opera in season 3. And the season 4 starter didn’t much convince me that change was inevitable, however much Meredith rambled on about it in her voice-over.

And what I really mind, not specifically about this series but about so many soap operas in general: I don’t want to be told who to like and who to dislike. I want to figure that out for myself. And I especially dislike being told (implicitly, of course, but not very subtly) that I’m supposed to like character A when I’ve just come to the conclusion that character A is an idiot and is wasting my time. And no, just because a character is made out to be all cute and adorable doesn’t mean that I can’t dislike her.

Yes, I’m looking at you, Lexie Grey.

Yes. She’s cute as a button. I hate her.

(Warning: If you’re tired of my “I love HBO” sermons, this is where you go and read that other blog. You know, the one by that guy who writes about these things. And there are pictures and stuff.)

That’s one of the things I love about Six Feet Under, The Sopranos and Deadwood, or even Battlestar Galactica (okay, that one isn’t HBO). No one tells me that I have to like Tony Soprano or Alma Garret or Nate Fisher. In fact, it’s absolutely okay for me to dislike Starbuck (which I don’t – but I could!) or Claire or Carmela. And, what is more important, the characters are deeper, more real – they can’t be reduced to Good Guys and Bad Guys. You may feel understanding for them, but that doesn’t stop you from shouting at them in the next scene, telling them to stop being so fucking stupid, goddamnit, cocksuckers!

Okay… perhaps I should try to reduce the weekly dose of Deadwood.

Those cheating so-and-sos at the Sci-Fi Channel

I’m back from my Christmas break, with lots of new DVDs to watch and not enough time… Sad, sad, sad.

In any case, we continued with Battlestar Galactica season 3 yesterday, watching “Exodus”, a double episode that ends life under Cylon occupation for the poor denizens of New Caprica. (Who’d have thunk, with a title like that?) The episode was exciting, with some fairly tough scenes in between – but the way they continued from “Precipice” was a disappointing cop-out.

 Last thing we’d seen was Callie, running away after Jammer cut her restraints and told her to get out of there, and then we heard the sound of gunfire… Of course it was unlikely that the guns firing were actually the Cylon executioners cutting down, among others, Tom Zarek and Laura Roslin. It was unlikely that they’d kill both of them off in one fell swoop lifted more or less directly from The Great Escape. But they completely cheated with continuity and editing – when “Exodus” part 1 finally arrives at the scene, it’s plain to see that a) Callie isn’t running next to bushes or trees and b) by the time the guns start firing, she’s already been thrown to the ground by Chief Tyrol. There’s only one thing to say to such blatant cheating:

Your dirty, dirty birdy!

“HE DIDN’T GET OUT OF THE COCKADOODIE CAR!”

Anyway… While the episode fumbled on that one, it was very strong on characterisation. Especially Starbuck and Tigh get fantastic scenes. I never really liked Ellen Tigh as a character, finding her annoying more than anything else, but her last scene with Saul was quite heartbreaking; as was the expression on Kara’s face when she arrives on the Galactica with kiddo Kacey, whom she’s been made to believe is her daughter – and then Kacey’s real mother turns up, sees her child and takes it from Starbuck, crying and thanking her. You can almost see something inside Starbuck breaking.

It’ll be very interesting to see how (or indeed whether) the people who’ve escaped from New Caprica will re-integrate into life aboard the starship. Chances are there are fairly deep psychological scars, and it’s doubtful they’ll heal from one episode to the next.

P.S.: You gotta love Gaeta’s bitter quip to the quivering Baltar: “He believed in the dream of Gaius Baltar. The good life. Booze, pills, hot and cold running interns…”