Archive for the ‘‘Culture’’ Category
I think I’m going to like the histories.
I say this not because King John is a great play. It’s not. It’s narrative is very straight-forward. Many of its character, particularly John himself, are bland. I don’t recall grinning like a baboon at any particularly excellent dialogue.
However, it has one advantage over the comedies: it’s easy to follow. The comedies rely a great deal on clever dialogue, phrasing and references that often go over the heads of even an educated contemporary reader (Love’s Labours Lost especially). It’s very difficult to get into a play when I’m touching every third word to find out what it means. John, by contrast, and I suspect the histories in general, are less cumbersome to the Brocca’s Area.
John has some big weaknesses: the seemingly arbitrary shifts in loyalty among the barons (probably reflective of reality, but not very accessible); the shrewish sparring between Lady Constance and Queen Eleanor; and Arthur’s pleading for his life doesn’t really work for me. But things liven up every time the Bastard is on stage. I found myself hoping he would succeed John to the throne.
Not a bad start, actually, despite its reputation as the weakest of the histories.
Next Up: Richard II
Scholars suggest that the first two acts of this play were written by George Wilkins while the last three were written by Shakespeare. I have to say this sound imminently plausible. The first two acts are boring, running through several locations and a cast of characters with little flavor, drama or humor. You could cut them out of the play entirely with almost no loss.
The last three acts work much better and have more of the plot twists and court shenanigans that we know and love. It’s still not one of the Bard’s best efforts. But there’s some humor in how Marina fends off her potential clients and the reunion scene between Pericles and Marina is genuinely moving. But I’ve really not much to say about this play because there’s very little to it. It lacks the fire, humor or insight of the other comedies. It’s not really a problem play or one that flirts with tragedy. It’s just … kind of … there.
So I’m not going to waste much time digging into Pericles. Nor, for now, will I read Two Noble Kinsmen, which is supposedly even worse and is in neither my Kindle nor my bound edition. Instead, I’ll give a quick overview of what I thought of the comedies.
Reading through all the comedies was an illustration of just how important performance is for comedy. The best comedies do work on the page. But I found that the bulk of the comedies occasionally dragged on the page. Comedy — even just light drama or fantasy — is highly dependent on subtlety and on an actor bringing you in. There are a number of passages where the lines read almost like an instruction manual — setting up the actors to carry the show. The combination of language and lack of stage direction often made the action difficult to follow.
If I were to rate them, I would say the best were A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, and The Tempest, although the latter is poorly described as a comedy. Three of those I was familiar with but Twelfth Night was a genuine surprise and a pure delight. It’s no accident that these are the most familiar comedies as they stand head and shoulders above the others. Not a phrase is wasted, not a humorous opportunity lost. The dialogue, especially, is so crisp, one is easily drawn into the plays. You don’t need a dictionary and stage directions to follow along and grin with every clever line or plot twist.
The remainder are eminently readable and have some fine moments. And having seen one or two in performance, I can say that are enjoyable on stage, when the actors can add their own flourishes. But they all have some slow passages, some pointless characters or some flaw that denies them the pinnacle of the top four: Merchant‘s absurd idea of justice, Two Gentlemen‘s tedium, Labours slow pace and sudden ending. I am very glad that I have now read them. And if I get an opportunity to see them in performance, I will. But I can’t see myself reading through them again.
Well, it’s on to the histories. And we’ll dive right in with King John.
Just to knock this out with the last five days so I can stop thinking about it:
Day 26: Favorite Doctor gadget
I’m not a big fan of the Whatever Device. I was somewhat fond of Bessie in the old series. But nothing really can compete with the sonic, can it?
Day 27: Favorite interview
It’s not quite an interview, but the extra part of Martha’s instructions from Human Nature, where David Tennant says some amazingly silly things, is a great.
Day 28: Favorite gif
Uh, no. I hate animated gifs.
Day 29: Favorite guest star
Most of the guest stars were already covered in villains and companions and so on. But I would like to highlight two little cameos that brought a grin: John Cleese in City of Death and Bill Nighy in Vincent and the Doctor.
Day 30: When you became a Doctor Who fan
It was the mid-80′s. My friend Adam (name changed to protect the innocent) was very into Doctor Who. I had watched a couple of episodes — Pyramids of Mars and Four to Doomsday. But I wasn’t really into it.
Then I watched an episode with him called Mawdryn Undead. Although I have seen it many times since, I can still remember the mindset of watching it off and on, becoming intrigued but being confused about what was going on. I an still remember it as some half-understood mix of images. While the effects were notoriously lousy, the ideas, the writing the acting drew me in.
I was intrigued enough that I decided to watch Terminus on my own the next week. And, after that, I was hooked. I realize that Terminus is no one’s idea of a great episode. But I found it intriguing. And when it was followed by Davison’s great last season and then Pertwee’s run, I became an addict.
What followed was a wonderful time as I discovered the series. There was so much to look forward to – 20+ seasons! I can still remember eagerly anticipating each week’s episode, breaking out the newspaper and seeing what was on.
The American experience of Doctor Who is very different from the British one, especially before the new series became popular. Doctor Who was … well, not exactly obscure. Most people had seen an episode on PBS. But it was so weird for someone to be a fan of the show. Being a Trekkie was bad enough, but a Whovian? That was a real freak show.
(Hell, my dad use to get on me about it. Funny story: frustrated with my lack of a dating life, he used to say, “What, are you going to marry Doctor Shmoo? Ironically, 30 years later, I did. My wife is named Sue, some friends call her Shmoo and she has a Ph.D. in biochemistry. And Doctor Who is probably the only TV show we watch these days.
My mother, however, embracing anything that got me out of the house, sneaked into a fan club meeting and found someone who knitted Tom Baker scarves. It was the most shocking birthday present I ever got.)
Sad to say, I did not have a lot of friends in high school. But Adam, before we had a falling out, introduced me to Terminus Tardis, a Doctor Who fan club (Terminus is one of Atlanta’s three previous names). I would go about once a month to watch old episodes or the newest episodes, neither of which were being shown on TV. But I would also socialize. I met a couple of people from my high school who were into it (I was frantically reading the novelizations and developed a reputation — and not a good one — for always having a Doctor Who book on me). I would go down to the PBS station to answer phones when they were raising money during Doctor Who. And … well, that was my social life, such as it was.
Without Doctor Who, I might have been even lonelier in high school. But I don’t look back on that time with any shame. When I watch old episodes, it takes me back to those old days of adjusting my rabbit ears to pick up a clear signal and eagerly discussing the latest discovery with my few friends. And now that Doctor who is cool, I can legitimately say I was into Doctor Who before it was cool (way, way, waaaay before it was cool). And I’m sure that scarf makes me look like some kind of … well, maybe not a hipster … but something not entirely uncool.
Anyway, those paragraphs above tell you a lot about why I love the show so much and I would devoted several thousand words to a silly tumblr exercise. Now it’s out of my head and into yours. Back to our regularly scheduled program.
Is the blog haunted? I could swear that right before vacation, I posted Days 16-19, wrote but held Day 20. Then I came back and an empty Day 20 was posted, so I had to fix it. Now I can’t find 16-19. So this is all out of order and I’m just going to finish this puppy and crawl into a hole before I embarrass myself further.
I know I wrote this because I remember how hard it was to come up with the choices.
Day 16: Favorite Actor
I’ve already stated my favorite doctors and companions, so I’ll exclude them and just focus on guest stars.
For the old series, I always liked Michael Sheard, who played numerous roles and was simply great as the doomed Lawrence Scarman in Pyramids of Mars. For the new series, I’ll go with Michael Gambon. The character of Kazran could have been terrible; Gambon made it exceptional. Honorable mention to Julian Bleach as Davros and Bill Nighy’s cameo in Vincent and the Doctor.
Day 17: Least Favorite Actor
When you base a series in Britain, you’re hard-pressed to get bad actors. But Graham Crowden in Horns of Nimon was simply awful (although that may have been the horrid script). For the new series, I didn’t like Peter Kay in Love and Monsters but that’s probably because I hate Love and Monsters so much. It’s awfulness was not really his fault.
Day 18: Favorite Actress
For the old series, Beatrix Lehmann was simply a delight as Professor Rumford in Stones of Blood, one of the few episodes of the old series that passed the Bechdel Test. For the new series, I’ll take Carey Mulligan, who I still wish would return as Sally Sparrow.
Day 19: Least Favorite Actress
No one could eclipse Bonnie Langford for the old series. For the new series, I never cared for the Lady Cassandra character and Zoe Wanamaker’s performance.
Did Day 20, might as well bring this puppy home.
Day 21: Favorite couple
In the old series, it was Ian and Barbara. I always hoped they ended up getting married after they left. Their interaction in The Romans as wonderful. For the new series, who else could it be but Amy and Rory, the first genuine married couple in the series?
Day 22 Favorite Friendship
This seems to be restating the favorite companion question. I’ll stick with Sarah Jane (old series) and Donna (new).
Day 23: Favorite spinoff
The only one I’ve really watched is Torchwood, which could be uneven. Sometimes is was really good and sometimes it was awful. Children of Earth was simply brilliant, one of the most brutal mini-series in sci-fi history.
Day 24: Favorite quote
From the old series: “The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. Instead of altering their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views…which can be very uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.” — The Doctor, Face of Evil
From the new series?: “The universe is big, its vast and complicated, and ridiculous. And sometimes, very rarely, impossible things just happen and we call them miracles. And that’s the theory. Nine hundred years, never seen one yet, but this would do me.” — The Doctor, The Pandorica Opens (and really, just pick a random page on a Moffat script and we’re there).
Day 25: Favorite Doctor catchphrase
I hate catch phrases. “Exterminate!” is the only one that ever really sent chills up my spine.
Day 20: Favorite Writer
OK. Didn’t realize this got published instead of sitting in my draft queue. I don’t know what’s more awkward: that it got published or that no one noticed…
Anyway, my favorite writer of the old series was Robert Holmes. Holmes had a unique way of getting the science of Doctor Who mind-bogglingly wrong. There would be sciency words sprayed around, but the execution was almost childlike (in a memorable moment, the Doctor uses a diamond to convert a lighthouse into a spaceship-destroying laser). But … Holmes has such a great feel for character, dialogue and plot that it didn’t matter. Episodes like Ark in Space and Pyramids of Mars and Caves of Androzani were among the most brilliant of the entire 26-year run.
Russell T. Davis was the Robert Holmes for the new show. He had an amazing feel for character. But his science was laughably bad. He was great. But in the end, he is eclipsed by Stephen Moffat, who is rapidly becoming the best thing to ever happen to Doctor Who. Not only is his dialogue memorable, his characters true and his plots intricate, he science is gold. It’s not accurate, per se, but it is plausible. The ideas he throws out aren’t ridiculous and he is very good at not over-explaining things. There are occasional “huh?” moments like The Big Bang. But overall, he keeps it together. And the juggling act he did through seasons five and six was remarkable.
Most of the best episodes of Doctor Who were written by Moffat — for either series.
Some more from the Doctor Who challenge. We’re getting further into the weeds as the questions go on. In the meantime, I found this on Cracked’s website, giving an overview of the Doctors that’s pretty amusing and accurate.
Day 9: Favorite Master
Oh, it’s Delgado, no question. Jacobi was good and Ainley coulda been. But Delgado was simply awesome. I know a lot of people loved Simm, but I wasn’t overwhelmed. As James Berardinelli said to me in an e-mail: “The Master isn’t merely evil. He’s diabolical. In five minutes, Jacobi captured something that Simm couldn’t “get” in two episodes.”
Day 10: Saddest Episode
Probably Journey’s End for the new series, which had Donna’s departure. For the old series, I’ll go with the last episode of The Green Death, which tugged hard on the heart strings (Katy Manning breaks down on the DVD commentary). It wasn’t just the end of Jo’s tenure; it was the end of the UNIT era and the beginning of the end for Pertwee.
Day 11: Funniest Episode
For the new series, probably Partners in Crime which really showed off Catherine Tate’s talent for humor. For the old series, probably City of Death, which was written by Douglas Adams. The Romans, however, would be a close second. It features one of the Doctor’s boldest and funniest jokes when he plays music for Nero.
Day 12: Episode that scared you most
Oh, Blink, definitely Blink. A Doctor Who episode had never really had me gripping the sofa arm quite like that one. For the old series, it’s hard to tell. I’ll just throw out Ark in Space, since the idea of being slowly transformed into an insect is scary.
Day 13: Favorite theme song
The current arrangement is pretty fun.
Day 14: Character you like that almost everyone else hates
From the old series, I liked the Sixth Doctor. And I hate to admit it, but I actually kind of liked K-9. I’m not sure who people find annoying in the new series. Jackie, maybe?
Day 15: Most annoying character
Probably Adric in the old series. For the new series it was Adam. The last two are bad question for me since I usually tune out annoying characters unless they are around for more than an episode. I can’t really get worked about the third Dalek on the left being an annoying twerp.
Some more Doctor Who blogging. I promise I’ll be mercifully short.
Day 4: Favorite Villain
There were so many good ones from both the new and the old series: the Master, of course. The Valeyard, Tobias Vaughn, Davros, Fenric. And if we fold in monsters, you’ve got the Daleks, the Vashta Nerada, the Cybermen and the Weeping Angels. I would say that the old series was a little better at villains, per se, since it had more time for them to develop into full characters.
But I’ll go with something off the wall here: Sutekh. Sutekh was one of the few villains who I found frightening. The idea that a being so powerful could be unleashed and cause such immediate and awesome destruction was deeply disturbing. Sutekh was incredibly intelligent, vicious and brutal, threatening to torture the Doctor for centuries for destroying his ship. He’s the one villain that, had he gotten free, would have been unstoppable. Gabriel Woolf was so effective of the voice of evil that they brought him back to voice the Beast in the new series.
With the new series, I’ll go with Davros. But the Weeping Angels taken a close second.
Day 5: Favorite Aliens
I’d go with the Silurians but they’re not really aliens, are they? And you could go with the Doctor, but that’s not really the point. And I’m guessing this is different from the villains/monsters I listed above. This is supposed to be something friendly?
So if we’re going with friendly extraterrestrials who are not the Doctor, I’ll go with the Draconians. They only made one appearance but I found them fascinating. If we confine ourselves to the new series, I’ll go with the Ood.
Day 6: Favorite Special Episode
This mainly applies to the new series — The Five Doctors was the only special in the old one. I’m going to go with Christmas Carol which I found to be far less over-the-top than Russel T. Davies’ last few overwrought episodes. It could be watched by someone only vaguely familiar with Who, it played wonderfully on the original story and featured a great performance from Michael Gambon.
Day 7: Favorite Season
I’m going to go with Season 13 from the old series. It featured the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane, the best combination in Who history. And the episodes: Terror of the Zygons, Planet of Evil, Pyramids of Mars, The Android Invasion, Brain of Morbius, The Seeds of Doom were excellent. This was back when Doctor Who was determined to scare the crap out of its viewers.
For the new series, I’d probably go with Season 6. You know it’s a good season when, arguably, the two best episodes weren’t written by Moffat.
Honorably mentions go to classic Seasons 8 (The Master and UNIT at their best), Season 14, Season 15 (which has some bad episodes but was special to me), Season 21 (except for The Twin Dilemma), Trial of Timelord and Season 25.
Day 8: Least Favorite Season.
For the old series? Season 24 was pretty bad apart from Dragonfire. For the new series, the four specials that ended Tennant’s tenure were pretty poor, especially the deeply unapproachable End of Time. Season 1 of the new series was probably the worst simply because the show was still finding itself and was a bit uneven. But really, there haven’t been too many bad series in Doctor Who’s history.
The lamest thing about NBC’s Olympics is not the insipid announcing or the constant shuffling of events or the focus on drama instead of sport. No, the lamest thing is their online streaming.
No, scratch that. The streaming is actually very good. It’s easy to find events, the video is smooth and you can do a picture-in-picture thing to effectively watch two events at once. Even better: you can actually watch the events instead of puff pieces about the athletes, if you can imagine.
No, what’s lame is the business model. Streaming is only available to cable subscribers. You have to be subscribed to NBC, CNBC and MSNBC in order to stream events live to your computer. This may sound fine to NBC and its paleozoic business outlook. But it’s death for the modern viewer.
And it’s death to their finances. NBC is throwing away potentially millions, maybe hundreds of millions of dollars by not making their streaming more accessible. Prime time viewing will draw lots of eyes for a long time — their ratings have been through the roof. But streaming brings in new customers who would prefer a cleaner more current version of their coverage. And NBC could make trainloads of money off of it. I would personally pay at least $50 for unlimited access to Olympic coverage if I weren’t already paying the cable company for it. Just a million customers would bring in a cool $50 million for NBC of which the cable companies would get zero.
(Update: I’d forgotten that Comcast owns NBC and is therefore able to use the Olympics to sell crappy cable packages. That, of course, doesn’t apply to customers of other cable companies or customers who have cut the cord to cable. And the less said of the sleazy Comcast-NBC acquisition, the better. My general point remains unchanged: Olympic streaming should produce piles of money, not aggravation.)
But it’s bigger than that. The current trend is of customers following content rather than providers. Forget what NBC would make now; they would be setting up a gold mine for the future. You wouldn’t have to juggle six channels and tape delays to find what you want. Go to NBC, pony up some cash and the entire Olympiad would be laid out for you. Instead of this, they have hitched their wagon to the dying cable model. (See update above for why they’ve done this).
It’s not exactly news that cable is dying. My personal journey away from cable is like that of ten million other people in this country. When we lived in Texas, we had an elaborate and expensive cable package. When we moved to Pennsylvania, we ditched it. This wasn’t because we didn’t want it but because we simply couldn’t afford it until we sold our Texas home and my wife had a job. But even once those things were cleared up, we didn’t go back. We realized that we hadn’t missed cable. Between Netflix, Amazon and online streaming, we pretty much had everything we wanted. I’ve recently upped the subscription slightly to get Olympic coverage and football games. We’ve also had grandparents moving in with us for long periods and they miss the TV. But if I could, I would cut the cord completely.
The Great Recession has only accelerated this trend. People need to save money and cable is an obvious place. But even when (if?) the recession ends, I don’t think they’re going to stampede back. Consider the following replacement we put in place for a cable subscription running $100 a month:
We’re now up to a grand total of about $700. For that price, I get to watch any network television I want, when I want. I get to watch any baseball game in the country (and any football game if the NFL/NCAA ever pull their heads out of their asses). I get to make sure my daughter watches decent TV like My Little Pony instead of horrid TV. And cutting off her TV is as simple as changing the router password. And I still have $500 left over to buy any DVDs, blu-rays or downloads that haven’t been covered already. Or I can just throw myself a big party with some very expensive scotch.
Jesus Christ … why is anyone staying with cable? If channel surfing really that much fun?
I’m not going to say that cable is dead … yet. Cable can be very much alive if they start competing with that model. They’re doing this in their own way with On Demand movies and sports packages. But they have not gotten within screaming distance of the convenience, cost and mobility offered by other services. I can stream Netflix and MLB to any device no matter where I am in the United States; I can barely watch Comcast in my living room. I can watch Netflix or Amazon through an iPad app; for Comcast I need a huge box next to the TV. I can cut Netflix off with an e-mail; I’m locked in to Comcast for months. Netflix charges me $20 a month for as many downloads as I want; Comcast turns me over and shakes me by the ankles to see if I have any loose change.
That may have worked ten years ago. It’s a recipe for extinction now.
Cable companies are making tons of money right now, so they think everything is fine. But they are ignoring two things: (1) they are making money because they have little monopolies all over the country; (2) they are making money off the expectations of older customers. My daughter’s generation will simply not stand for this. Already, she expects content to show up on any reasonably flat surface at a touch with no commercials. She’s a part of a generation for whom everyone gathering around the Ol’ Radiation King at 8:00 to watch Seinfeld and eight minutes of commercials will sound as quaint as party phone lines do to me. She will navigate through a dozen internet services to find precisely what she wants at the best price and the least fuss. And cable … isn’t that.
Update: You might wonder what provoked this rant. Up until a few months ago, I had a minimal cable package. I ran the line into the back of my television and got a good number of channels with some in HD. We got PBS for the kid, football in the fall and a handful of other channels for the grandparents. We were fine. Then Comcast decided to “improve” their service. Suddenly, we needed a box and another remote control for every television. And the results was fewer channels and no high definition. It tells you how little we watch TV that we didn’t even notice this for a month.
So, as result of Comcast’s service improvement, we paid more, got worse service and were blessed with a big white elephant sitting next to every TV in the house. This is not a business model for the 21st century. It’s the business model of someone who has a monopoly … one that is doomed to extinction.
Apparently, there’s a tumblr going around for a 30 day Doctor Who challenge, a bit of summer fun to bridge the way-too-long gap between Series 6 and 7. There seems to have been no starting date. Everyone is proceeding at various paces as the meme goes viral.
You know me: I can’t resist a list and especially not a list on my favorite subject. So I’ll bite. I’ll concatenate a few just so the blog doesn’t get swamped with Doctor Who posts. This post will be longer than most because I had already written and shelved a long pointless post on my favorite Doctors.