Friday, September 22, 2006

Banned Books

Check out Google Book Search: Celebrate Your Freedom to Read, released to coincide with Banned Books Week (September 23-30). I dream of one day writing something audacious enough to provoke such strong reactions from my readers.

I wouldn't say that all art has to be "challenging," but I think the most interesting art defies expectations in some way. It doesn't have to be surprising, like a twist ending to a story, but it should be revelatory, even if subtly.

Speaking of books... I just finished reading the late Octavia E. Butler's Mind of my Mind, which was published in 1977. It's pretty sparse as far as novels go, and a lot of things go unspoken but are clearly set-ups for future stories in the Patternist series. Recommended.


Still Speaking of TV

(At Bryan's request, I've reformatted the quoted email sections for readability.)

Deadwood is great, but very particular. You may want to give it a
couple more episodes.

Karin was firmer in her "no" vote than I. We had a couple of problems with
it. First, and perhaps this is just me getting old, but I found it very
difficult to understand what the characters were saying. I had to keep
rewinding scene after scene which just made watching the episode more work
than fun. Maybe the sampler disc we were viewing contained a bad copy of the
pilot, but the picture looked great and we didn't have the sound problem
with the other pilots on the disc. Perhaps the fault lies with the sound
crew for the show.

Yeah, we still have that problem sometimes-- it's not a technical issue, it's just the way the dialogue is written. I actually like it; it's almost Shakespearean in its vocabulary and rhythms, and the juxtaposition with the filthy environment is central to the show, IMHO. And speaking of filth...

The second problem we had with the show was its anachronistic use of foul
language. I'm no prude and I like fucking foul language as much as the next
guy, but even in the rough-and-tumble old west I doubt there was much use of
bodily-function-oriented foul language. My understanding is that the foul
language of choice back then was sacrilegious since that was more taboo at
the time. In later years, as sacrilegious language began to lose its edge,
bodily-function language became more in vogue. In addition, the use of foul
language seemed over-frequent and gratuitous. I could just picture HBO execs
telling the writers to add in more foul language and nudity (and spectacular
gore) so they could demonstrate the difference in content between
premium-cable and free-network fare. Again, it isn't so much the subject
matter (language, nudity, gore) I mind as much as its unnecessary use. If
the show contained frequent and unnecessary references to ping-pong I would
have had a similar objection.

I get that. I couldn't watch NYPD Blue because of the ridiculuous camera work, which would jerk around constantly and for no reason, even during static scenes. I know it was supposed to artificially increase tension, and didn't otherwise affect the quality of the writing or acting, but it irritated me so much that I couldn't watch it at all.

So maybe Deadwood just isn't for you. I will say that not all the characters are uniformly foul-mouthed, and later episodes are more judicious in their use of certain... phrases. If you're a Veronica Mars fan, you may want to rent the episodes "Bullock Returns To The Camp" and "Suffer The Little Children" to see Kirsten Bell in a very different role. (And if you're not a Veronica Mars fan, that's another good show you should check out.)

After reading about all the new shows, there wasn't a single one I felt
excited about seeing. The best I could muster was a half-hearted stirring to
maybe give one or two a try. True, I was reading about them in TV Guide,
which I subscribed to when it changed formats and within a few issues
decided THAT was a big mistake. That magazine has become SO fluffy and
breathless I can barely stand wading through it to get information about
what's coming up. I'm letting my subscription run out. If only I could find
a source of serious and discerning editorial opinion about TV shows!
Entertainment Weekly sometimes hits the mark, but I usually can't get past
its smart-alecky hipster tone.

I usually flip through EW and read the few articles I care about in each issue. I don't mind the snarkiness too much.

I listen to the KFOG podcast, on which TV critic Tim Goodman shows up a few times a month-- it's fun because he discusses things with other people, and generally knows what he's talking about. It's a short segment and thus not very in-depth, but has pointed me to interesting things. The podcast is clearly labeled so you can just listen to Tim Goodman's segments:

Of course, if you don't like Tim Goodman, that's probably not for you either. :)


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Speaking of TV

(At Bryan's request, I've reformatted the quoted email sections for readability.)

Speaking of TV, what are you guys watching these days? DeeAnn and I
just got addicted to "House", and are trying to make the last season
of "Deadwood" last for a while...

Well, believe it or not, you two got us totally hooked on another series:
Battlestar Galactica. After you gave us the season 1 DVDs, I went out and
got the mini-series. I'd seen it before and liked it, but hadn't thought
much about it since. I liked the mini-series much more the second time. I
think the first time I saw it I couldn't see past the original show
(embarrassed to say I'm a fan). The second time I judged the mini-series
solely on its own merits. By the end of the first episode of the 1st season,
I was hooked, Karin about half a season later. We've since bought and
watched season 2.0 and 2.5.

Now that we've seen all the episodes of Battlestar, we're casting about for
a new show to watch. What we really want is another drama series like
Battlestar, Lost, Buffy/Angel, or Babylon 5, with long story arcs,
feature-film-like production values, and ideally (but not necessarily) in
the science-fiction genre. Suggestions? We picked up this DVD that has the
pilots for four HBO series. It has Entourage, Deadwood, Big Love, and Rome.
We've watched Entourage and Deadwood, but weren't impressed enough with
either one to buy the 1st season DVDs. We've watched a few of the new series
(Justice, Eureka, Psych), but so far they've all been duds.

Deadwood is great, but very particular. You may want to give it a couple more episodes. It's available from Netflix:

Rome is absolutely amazing-- like "I, Claudius," but grittier. Season 2 starts in November, and season 1 is on DVD.

Carnivale only lasted 2 seasons on HBO, but it was fantastic in every sense of the word. If you haven't seen it, I think it's exactly what you're looking for. On DVD now.

I really liked "Murder One," the ABC series from the 1990s. It was billed as "a novel for television," and I think that might have put off a lot of people who weren't ready to commit up front. The first season was great, except for the deus-ex-machina ending. The second season wasn't quite as engrossing, but still good.

Of the new shows, "Studio 60" looks pretty good based on the pilot and its pedigree. It's written by Aaron Sorkin, who also wrote "Sports Night" and the first few seasons of "The West Wing." I personally love all his stuff; he and Joss Whedon are probably the only two creators I'd follow anywhere.

I have high hopes and low expectations for "Heroes."

I'm sure "Shark" will be entertaining, if only because of James Woods. "Smith" and "Jericho" both sound interesting, but I'm reserving judgment until I see a few episodes.

We watched a few episodes of "Blade: The Series," which seemed to have an interesting premise and set-up (warring vampire clans), but I think we've pretty much given up on it at this point.

I've even been looking at some British drama serials to see if there's
something we might like. I found this page: so I'm
considering some of those. Have you ever seen any of the Quatermass stuff?
Is it worth watching? I think I saw 'Five Million Years To Earth'
(Quatermass and the Pit, the movie) once when I was a kid and was terrified
by it.

I've never seen the Quatermass series, but I liked the movie too. :)

I've heard good things about "The Sandbaggers," a British spy series from the 1970s.

I've been watching "Hex" on BBC America, and it's not bad-- I haven't seen every episode, and it sometimes takes itself too seriously, but the end of the first season had some spiffy, almost Whedonesque plot twists.

I really like "Life on Mars," also on BBC America-- it's kind of like Quantum Leap meets The Streets of San Francisco, but set in Manchester, England. Unfortunately, they cut down the episodes to fit the 1-hour broadcast time slot, and it's often very obvious. This is especially annoying since they don't trim other shows like "Footballers Wives." I'm probably just going to get the UK DVDs, which are also widescreen. :)

Hope this helps!


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Punchline

"For a moment there, I really planned to drive up to a drug store, buy a 4 oz container of personal lubricant, empty it out, wash it and refill it with toothpaste."
-- Neil Gaiman, Terrorism and my toothpaste