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Monday, February 23, 2015 02:15 PM
On the Viewer - The Legend of Korra: Book Four - Balance
 by Fëanor

I looked back and saw I'd never written up the last season of Korra! Seemed like a terrible oversight, so here I am. I'm going to get a little spoilery here, but this show is pretty old now, so I think I'm allowed.

The show creators start the season off with one of those crazy, gutsy moves they do so often and so well: they jump ahead in time three years from the end of the last season! As the episode goes on, we slowly figure out what all our heroes have been up to. Mako is now the rather unwilling bodyguard of the pampered, self-important Prince Wu, who is about to take the reigns of the Earth Kingdom (or at least, so he believes). We also find out why they made a big show of introducing us to Kuvira at the end of last season (a scene which felt weird to me at the time): she has now become a huge power in the Earth Kingdom and is (not to put too fine a point on it) this season's villain. She calls herself the Great Uniter, and is bringing order to the lawless Earth Kingdom. But it's order without freedom and peace without choice. Like many others, Bolin, Varrick and Zhu Li have been taken in by Kuvira's pretty speeches and are helping her take over - which makes Bolin's relationship Opal complicated, as Opal hates Kuvira.

But of course, the big question is, where's Korra? The answer is revealed in the shocking end to the first episode: she's lied to her friends about where she is and what she's been doing, and she's hidden herself away in a backwater town, telling no one there her true identity. She's spending her time fighting - and losing! - earthbending cage matches.

In episode two, a flashback explains how Korra got here, and again I was impressed with the show's creators for not just pushing on from last season's story like it never happened. In fact, Korra is deeply scarred both physically and emotionally by her battle with Zaheer and her near death at his hands. Physical therapy eventually heals her body (mostly), but she finds it much harder to get over the fear and the block in her mind, and she is haunted by the dark specter of herself as she was when she fought Zaheer - a ghost that actually physically attacks her. The imagery is incredibly powerful: Korra fighting her old self, being pulled inescapably into the past to relive the fight with Zaheer over and over.

Luckily for Korra, she runs into Toph Beifong (yay, Toph!), Aang's old earthbending teacher. She's been hiding out in a swamp, communing with the Earth and avoiding everybody, because she's now a super grouchy old lady. She shows Korra some tough love and helps her to finish her physical healing. But even now, Korra is not magically fixed. There is still a final mental component to her injuries that she has not fully dealt with. It's hard to watch Korra in so much pain for so much of this season, being defeated over and over again, but it's all in service of character and story, and it's a powerful commentary on trauma and healing.

One of my favorite characters, Varrick, gets to shine again this season, and his relationship with Zhu Li finally gets to the next level, which is great to see. The rather infamous clip show episode "Remembrances" (which, as I understand it, the creators were forced to do in order to avoid firing anybody after Nickelodeon cut their budget) is saved only by Varrick's ridiculous action movie retelling of previous events.

Korra's team-up with Zaheer is unexpected and interesting, as is Asami's reconciliation with her father. The final epic battle against Kuvira's forces, led by her incredible, gigantic, spirit-vine-powered mecha battle suit, takes three whole episodes to complete and is exciting and impressive in the extreme. When it's all over, again a tremendous change has come over the world: the explosion of spirit energy has led to the creation of a new spirit portal. This season also reminds us over and over again that the villains Korra fights are never just evil for the sake of evil. Zaheer and Hiroshi both end up helping our heroes. Even Kuvira was trying to do what she thought was right, and in the end is penitent.

But maybe the biggest and most important moment in the entire Legend of Korra series happens at the very end of the last episode, when Korra walks off into the sunset not with Mako or with any other man, but with Asami. They don't quite go so far as to have Asami and Korra kiss onscreen, but that they now have a romantic relationship is strongly implied. In other words, this cartoon has a female bisexual hero. That's amazing! I don't think it's completely unprecedented, but nearly. When I watched that final scene, I felt like I was watching a really important part of television history. Progress!

Book Four is probably the best season of Korra, and really pulls together all the characters and stories from previous seasons in a powerful way. There's also plenty of room for more stories in this world - about Korra and Asami's adventures in the Spirit World, or about the next Avatar, or previous Avatars, or what have you - and I hope we get to see some of those stories eventually.
Tagged (?): Avatar (Not), Cartoons (Not), Legend of Korra (Not), On the Viewer (Not), TV (Not)
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Wednesday, January 7, 2015 03:22 PM
On the Viewer - The Legend of Korra: Book Three - Change
 by Fëanor

One of the things I like best about the creative team behind the Avatar shows is their willingness to fundamentally change things about the world they've created. At the end of last season, Korra engineered one of these changes by leaving the spirit portals open, and in this season the world has to deal with the consequences of that decision. One of those consequences is that the spirit world has encroached on the real world in physical ways, enveloping large portions of Republic City in vines and jungle. Needless to say, the citizens and leaders of the city are less than pleased.

Even more astonishing, non-benders all over the world are suddenly developing the ability to airbend. Airbenders, once almost utterly destroyed, are returning. We already knew that air was the element most closely linked with the spiritual side of things, so this makes sense. The problem is, it isn't only good people who are suddenly gaining this ability. The mysterious prisoner Zaheer (voiced by Henry Rollins!!!) has also become an airbender, and he uses his new power to free not only himself from prison, but also a handful of other former compatriots with extraordinary abilities. Their target, as should not be surprising at this point, is the Avatar.

There's nothing like a prison break to start things off in a thrilling way, and a series of prison breaks of incredibly powerful and dangerous criminals from incredibly high security prisons is even better! It is really a great team of bad guys we have this time: an airbender mastermind, a lavabender, an armless waterbender, and a crazy firebender who can make the air explode with her mind (Zuko has an amusing exchange about the time he hired a similar guy to kill Aang).

Meanwhile, Korra, unaware of her danger, is kicked out of Republic City for not being able to clear up those spirit vines and decides to use her new-found nomad status to wander the earth gathering up airbenders in the hopes of rebuilding the long lost Air Nation. Naturally she's joined by the rest of Team Avatar: Mako, Bolin, Asami, Tenzin, and so forth. And naturally she starts making new enemies almost right away! A lot of the new airbenders don't want their new abilities and aren't interested in picking up and leaving their whole lives behind to go train. Meanwhile, other people have their own ideas for how to make use of airbenders.

It's great that we get to catch up with Fire Lord Zuko, and to visit with his Uncle Iroh again in the spirit world. And I love that we get to meet Mako and Bolin's huge extended family, especially their little old grandmother, who's a hoot. Speaking of families, there's drama aplenty when Korra visits a metalbending clan to meet a new airbender only to discover that the girl in question is Lin Beifong's niece, the lady in charge of the clan is Lin's sister, and there is a lot of bad blood between them. We finally get to find out how Lin got that scar on her face, and learn a bit more about what happened to Toph. The original Team Avatar from Last Airbender turned out to be a bit uneven as parents!

And of course there's the usual relationship drama. Thankfully the girl Bolin throws himself at this time (Lin's niece, Opal) is a lot less creepy and evil. And although Jinora falls for a little thief and liar named Kai, he ends up being a decent guy in the end.

Book 3 is my favorite season of Korra yet. A really solid, exciting story with the usual clever ideas, wonderful characters, exciting action, hilarious comic relief, and stunning supernatural stuff. I particularly like that our villains this time aren't just pure evil. They love each other, and are passionate about changing the world for what they believe is the better. They want freedom for all people. The only problem is, their way of going about it involves a lot of violence, chaos, destruction, and murder!

The climax of this season is incredibly thrilling, building to such a fever pitch by the end that I was literally gripping my chair and holding my breath with the tension. And at the end, again things have been irrevocably changed. Korra doesn't just spring right back from being attacked and nearly killed. She is traumatized by what's happened and it will take her time to heal and recover. It's hard to look at her in that final shot, the sickness and weariness in her face, the tear rolling down her cheek. I'm probably going to have to start the next season right away so I can see her get better!
Tagged (?): Avatar (Not), Cartoons (Not), Legend of Korra (Not), On the Viewer (Not), TV (Not)
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Tuesday, January 6, 2015 10:11 AM
On the Viewer - The Legend of Korra: Book Two - Spirits
 by Fëanor

All the shows I was watching on TV went on winter break, so I took the opportunity to catch up with one I'd left behind: Legend of Korra! The second season delves into Korra's family's recent past, as well as the distant past of the Avatar and of this world.

Korra heads home to visit with her parents and meets her uncle, Unalaq, who has expertise in one of Korra's few remaining weak areas: spirits and the spirit world. There's some bad blood between him and his brother, however, connected to some unpleasant events in the past, which make things a bit complicated. When those events finally come to light, it drives a wedge between Korra and her father, and between Korra and her adopted father, Tenzin, and convinces her to turn to Unalaq for her continuing education.

Unalaq reveals that a once-in-ten-thousand-years event is about to occur: the Harmonic Convergence. Before this happens, Unalaq says, it's essential that Korra open the spirit portals that sit at the North and South Poles. This will bring balance back to the world and stop the invasion of dark spirits that has recently begun. But Unalaq's plan is darker and more far-reaching than he's letting on, and it will lead first to civil war, and then to momentous changes not only in the nature of the Avatar, but also in the structure of the worlds themselves.

Book Two is thrilling and epic, and a lengthy flashback in the middle reveals the identity and origin story of the very first Avatar, which is really cool and interesting. For comic relief this time we have crazy rich guy Varrick, and Bolin's relationship with Unalaq's creepy daughter, Eska. I particularly love Varrick; he's hilarious. I was kind of happy to see Korra and Mako's relationship fall apart, too; I never really liked them together, and their breakup adds some interesting drama. Another fun dramatic relationship is the rocky family dynamic among Tenzin, his waterbender sister Kya, and his goofy, story-telling, ex-soldier, non-bender brother Bumi. They all have very different personalities that don't fit together well, and they all have very different memories of their childhood and of their father who, it comes out, was not always the perfect hero he's been made out to be.

My only real problem with the season is some of the hand-wavy (to borrow a favorite phrase of my friend Peccable) spiritual shenanigans that occur near the end. There's a lot of back-and-forth and up-and-down in terms of who's got the magic powers and what their exact nature is and where the spirits are and what they can do and so on and so forth, and all the sudden Korra is a big glowing giant. There are a lot of rules to all this that the writers seem to be making up as they go along to generate drama, and I always felt a step behind, not quite understanding what was going on or how. It's possible that I just wasn't paying close enough attention, but I don't know.

Still, the big climax is exciting and amazing to look at, and the fundamental change to the world that occurs as a consequence is really interesting, and the writers do so many things right that I'm willing to give them a pass. This is still, unquestionably, a really great show. In fact, I'm nearly done the third book now, and if anything it's the best season of the show yet. Look for the review soon!
Tagged (?): Avatar (Not), Cartoons (Not), Legend of Korra (Not), On the Viewer (Not), TV (Not)
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Wednesday, December 17, 2014 09:58 AM
On the Viewer - A Look Back at Recent TV at the Winter Break
 by Fëanor

I've been trying to keep up with TV shows while they're actually on TV this season! I haven't actually watched most of them on TV (just caught the replays online later), but still.

Gotham
I gave up on this one after a couple of episodes. Just couldn't stand the ridiculous, ham-handed foreshadowing, the incredibly cliche way they were handling the Bruce Wayne character (he's grieving and hurt! You can tell because he's drawing scary things and listening to heavy metal!), and the relentless darkness. There were also one or two spots where I just couldn't suspend my disbelief. (Sorry, but one person cannot hide on an empty school bus from another person who knows they are in there.) I'm disappointed, but a bit relieved, as it would have been difficult to keep up with this show along with all the others I'm watching!

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
I'm pleased to say that season two of this show picked up quite a bit after that rather lame first episode. I often find the dialog and writing a bit clumsy, but it's still a fun and exciting show with plenty of humor and unexpected twists and turns, and I always look forward to the next episode. I particularly like Patton Oswalt's inexplicable gang of twin brothers, and it's exciting to have seen, in the most recent episode, the birth of a superhero. I'm a bit ashamed to say that I had to do a bit of research to discover that a couple of the characters we thought we knew are actually minor characters straight out of the pages of the comics. Cool stuff! I'm a little disappointed to (spoiler alert!) lose a promising character, and one of the only two black guys on the show at that. Especially since I'm still stinging from the loss of Lucy Lawless. But we'll see. People rarely stay dead in Whedon world.

The Flash
This is one of my favorite current TV shows - possibly my very favorite. It's definitely the best superhero show on TV, and the only one that's really succeeded in capturing the flavor of superhero comic books - the earnest emotions, the heroism, the over-the-top insanity, the goofiness. It's just a ton of fun, with lovable characters, a good sense of humor, and a warm heart. Plus, an exciting ongoing story with secrets and romance and betrayal, and new supervillains and superheroes getting introduced every episode. I was a little disappointed that in the Arrow crossover episode, the actual confrontation with the villain occurs off-screen (!!!), but I guess that wasn't what the episode was really about. It was, as it should be, focused on the characters. It was about Barry - his unresolved issues with Iris, his overconfidence. It was also about Oliver and what a different hero he is from Barry. I hadn't watched Arrow before, but I was inspired by this episode to jump over and watch that show's followup crossover with Flash. It was quite good! Dealt with some pretty deep, and very timely, ethical issues around torture, and whether the ends justify the means. I might have to catch up on the rest of Arrow at some point.

Constantine
I read an article or two that suggests this show might get cancelled soon, which is a shame, because it's quite good and has the potential to be even better. Basically it's a monster-of-the-week show, with the bitter, sarcastic, haunted (but sexy!) loner Constantine using dubious magic to save people as best he can. But, as with most shows, there's an over-arching story in the background as well, about a mysterious Rising Darkness that Constantine must stop. There's also a blot on his soul from an exorcism gone wrong that he's hoping he can somehow wipe clean; a guardian angel who hangs around him, mostly teasing him with vague pronouncements; and a visionary artist partner with her own mysterious past that's come back to haunt her. He's also got an inexplicably immortal buddy and a totally sweet hideout full of creepy magical artifacts.

The bitter, sarcastic, haunted (but sexy!) loner act can be grating at times, and the show has been a bit unimaginative and even racist in terms of who it casts as the villain (a gypsy witch, a black voodoo man), but it's got good ideas, interesting characters, it's exciting, and what the heck, I love a good monster-of-the-week show. The cliffhanger before the winter break was particularly stunning.

Star Wars: Rebels
The latest Star Wars animated series, and the follow-up to the sadly cancelled Clone Wars, is a really fun show that I enjoy quite a lot. It's set in the period between Episode III and Episode IV, after the fall of the Republic and Anakin and the Jedi, and before the rise of the Rebellion and Luke Skywalker. The Empire has a firm grip on the galaxy and is looking to solidify that hold by mercilessly destroying anyone with even the potential to become a threat - like, for instance, anyone with Force sensitivity, including children. One such child is our main character, a self-interested, street-wise, not-particularly-law-abiding orphan named Ezra. When Ezra runs into a small rebel cell led by a Jedi named Kanan, they make him realize there might be more to life than just stealing what he needs to survive and letting everybody else fend for themselves. He joins the crew of the Ghost, which includes the ship's pilot and owner, Hera; a Mandalorian explosives expert named Sabine (on whom Ezra quickly develops a crush); a screwy, grumpy droid called Chopper; and a big, tough, prickly creature named Zeb, who's one of the last Lasats in the galaxy, thanks to the Empire nearly wiping them out. Needless to say, he's not too happy about that.

The crew of the Ghost do what they can to ruin the Empire's day and to protect the citizens being crushed under its heel. Meanwhile, Kanan tries to teach Ezra how to be a Jedi, Ezra tries to figure out what the Empire did to his parents, and they all try to steer clear of the Empire's Sith agent, the Inquisitor, who's working clean-up for Darth Vader, executing any Jedi or potential Jedi he can get his hands on.

One of the things I like most about the show is the different perspective it has on the Star Wars universe. The great majority of other Star Wars shows and movies have focused on the most important characters in a huge conflict: the Generals and Emperors and Ambassadors. This is a story about a handful of criminals and misfits living on the outskirts of everything. There is no Rebellion yet, as we see it in A New Hope. There's just this little bunch of angry weirdos doing what they can against an impossibly huge and dangerous enemy.

I also really like the great dynamic that's developed among the main characters. They're an uneasy dysfunctional family, always fighting with each other, but under the surface, bonded tightly together by mutual loss and a united purpose. Also, there are two women in there, and they're important and interesting and active characters!

Which makes me doubly pissed that when they put out the first wave of Rebels action figures, those two characters were not included. Seriously, they put out Rebels-branded figures of characters who only make cameo appearances in the show (Darth Vader and Obi-wan Kenobi), and others who are not even in the show at all (Jango Fett, a Clone Trooper, and Luke Skywalker), but did not release figures of two of the main characters. If you're going to try to tell me that has nothing to do with the fact that those two characters are women, then I'm going to tell you you're wrong.

Sorry, I get super pissed whenever I think about that. Anyway, the point is, it's a good show!
Tagged (?): Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Not), Comic books (Not), Flash (Not), On the Viewer (Not), TV (Not)
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Wednesday, October 1, 2014 10:17 AM
On the Viewer - Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S2E1, "Shadows"
 by Fëanor

Something I forgot to cover in my recent TV post was Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The first season of this show had its ups and downs, but overall I really enjoyed it and was very much looking forward to the second season. Unfortunately, the premiere was disappointing in a number of ways. But first, let's talk about the things I liked:

Things have changed in deep and important ways, and I always like when TV shows have the courage to do this. I saw the twist coming in Fitz's story, but was still moved by it. I liked the introduction of the new villain, even though I'm not terribly familiar with the character from the comics. I liked the opening set during WWII, and the quick cameo from Agent Carter and the Howling Commandos. I liked the explanation/origin of the 084 code name. And I liked the addition of Lucy Lawless to the cast.

What I didn't like was the then (SPOILER ALERT!) immediate removal of Lucy Lawless from the cast. Of course, in Whedon World, dead characters rarely stay dead, but jeez. We only just met her!

Also, the weird primal 084 just... burns you if you touch it? So what? And the purpose of the big, all-or-nothing op where you sacrifice everything and put everything on the line is... to get a jet? It's a cloaking jet, but, c'mon, big deal. A jet? It's not even that big. Huge let down.

I also really, really didn't like Director Coulson's long, earnest, expository speech at the end of the episode. It was nearly unbearable to listen to. Whedon is better than that. We don't deserve to be talked down to like that as an audience. It's patronizing and cheesy and just completely uncalled for.

But hey, maybe I'm just grumpy. I'm watching the second episode now and I'm hopeful it will be better, and that Lawless will somehow rise from the dead, perhaps with a bionic arm or some such. We'll see!
Tagged (?): Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Not), On the Viewer (Not), S.H.I.E.L.D. (Not), TV (Not)
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Monday, September 29, 2014 12:01 PM
(Last updated on Monday, September 29, 2014 12:15 PM)
On the Viewer - Recent TV
 by Fëanor

Doctor Who
I've loved Doctor Who since I was a kid, and poppy and I have been slowly catching up on the modern incarnation of the series on Netflix, while at the same time keeping track of the new episodes on BBC America. The confusing mix of timelines seems appropriate, given the show's premise (a nigh immortal space-and-time-traveling alien who goes cavorting about the universe solving and creating problems in equal measure). Unfortunately, neither of us are huge fans of Season 8 so far. I was interested to see what Peter Capaldi (an actor I was unfamiliar with) would bring to the role, despite the fact that I'd been disappointed with the decision to cast yet another old, white guy as the character. Unfortunately, my disappointment deepened after the first episode. He seemed really uncomfortable and out of place in the role, as if he were reading lines written for Matt Smith and couldn't quite work out how to say them properly. But after all, that's rather appropriate to the story, and in the next couple episodes, he grew on me a bit. I really enjoyed "Into the Dalek" and "Listen," and even the rather silly and disposable "Robot of Sherwood" had its moments. "Listen" in particular is a really fascinating examination of the Doctor's character and the strangely formative and essential role Clara plays in his life. She's his conscience and his humanity, his judge and his caretaker. But "Time Heist" and "The Caretaker" I found oddly lifeless and disappointing. Again Capaldi seemed ill-suited to the character and dialog that was being written for him. Clara also has always been hard for me to pin down as a character. She seems less like a fully realized human and more like a walking, breathing plot device. Danny seems similarly skeletal, and their relationship has little chemistry and holds little interest. I'm hoping the season will take a turn for the better soon, but so far Capaldi has nothing on Eccleston, Tennant, or Smith, and Jenna Coleman and Samuel Anderson have nothing on Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill.

Gotham
I almost gave up on the pilot for the new Batman-without-Batman TV series after the first 20 minutes or so. So much cheesy foreshadowing of where these characters will end up! Such relentless grimness and darkness! But I stuck around and eventually warmed to the show a bit. It's a great cast, with some vaguely intriguing characters and plotlines, and I liked the solemn symbology of the end of the pilot, with Bruce handing Gordon back his badge and condoning the continuation of his quest for justice, against all odds. The suggestion of a past, possibly romantic, relationship between Montoya and Barbara was also unexpected and intriguing. I'll try to stick with this one.

Gravity Falls
The second season of this Disney cartoon recently started, and it may very well be my favorite thing on TV right now. It is hilarious, brilliant, and creepy, and I am continually amazed that it's Disney, of all companies, that is broadcasting this weird, dirty little freakfest of a show. If you're unfamiliar, Gravity Falls is kind of like a comedic X-Files, with the Mulder and Scully roles filled by a brother and sister named Dipper and Mabel. Dipper is a nerdy, anxious, shy, obsessive kind of kid, while Mabel is outgoing, silly, and perpetually joyful, and though they often argue and clash, a tighter, more devoted pair of siblings would be hard to find. The weird stuff they investigate takes place in the town they're staying at for the summer, Gravity Falls. The supporting cast is full of fascinating weirdos and includes their shady Great Uncle Stan, who runs a fraudulent tourist trap called the Mystery Shack. Dipper and Mabel work at the Shack with goofy handyman Soos and slacker teen Wendy, on whom Dipper has a serious crush. I cannot recommend the show highly enough. It has a wonderfully sly, off-kilter, biting sense of humor, with a real sweetness and warmth at its core.
Tagged (?): On the Viewer (Not), TV (Not)
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Friday, March 28, 2014 02:35 PM
On the Viewer - Veronica Mars
 by Fëanor

After I supplied my drop in the bucket for the Veronica Mars movie Kickstarter, I realized I really had to go back and watch the rest of the series (I never watched the last season first time around). And while I was at it, I should really watch the whole thing over again from the beginning. So I did. It was a blast. The show can tend a bit toward the repetitive and the melodramatic, but it always cuts the melodrama with sarcastic humor, and I never really got tired of its standard formula.

Once I was done with the series - which ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, to my surprise - I quickly downloaded my copy of the movie and fired it up. I was not disappointed. It's a wonderful and faithful continuation of the series, returning to all our favorite characters nine years later, and examining how they've grown and how they've not in the intervening time. (Even Dick Casablancas! My favorite dumb-ass asshole of all time.) In particular, and understandably given the title, it's a portrait of Veronica Mars herself and her destructive, addictive personality. She realizes ultimately that the past nine years have been her attempt to come clean, to escape the dark need inside her - and it's all been a lie. She's been playing at being a good, normal woman with a good, normal job; pretending she can be with a plain, upstanding, nice guy (poor Piz); trying to convince herself she can live without the dirt and the darkness. But with her 10th High School reunion looming, and an old lover in trouble again, she's quickly sucked back to her old town and her old ways, and nearly loses everything in the process.

The movie has the same cleverness, the same sharp sense of humor, the same wild drama as the show. But now they can also say curses! Well, some curses. It's PG-13, not R. Also, Wallace and Mac got super hot.

There are some great cameos from celebrities playing themselves, my favorite being James Franco, as his appearance involves a super-nerdy Tolkien reference. Also, remember to stay tuned after the credits for an extension of his cameo (yes, the movie has an after-credits scene; these seem to be de rigueur now).

I don't know how interesting or entertaining the movie would be for anybody who had not watched the show, but then again, I don't know why anybody who had not watched the show would bother seeing the movie, so there you go.
Tagged (?): Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not), TV (Not), Veronica Mars (Not)
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Monday, November 18, 2013 10:44 PM
Remembrances of Futures Past
 by Fëanor

My brother and I grew up watching Doctor Who on NJN. It was definitely one of our favorite shows. This was back before DVRs and On Demand when the only way to catch a show was to be lucky enough to turn to the right channel at the right time. The Doctor seemed to appear at random times so it always felt like a wonderful stroke of luck to flip over to PBS and find the blue police box fading into view with that signature groaning sound, instead of Nova or a nature show. Science fiction adventure with monsters and robots and time travel and silliness? It was the greatest.

When they brought the show back in 2005, we were both pretty excited, although I think my brother more than me. He'd become the bigger fan for whatever reason. I tried to keep up with it, but what I saw didn't really blow me away, and I ended up spending my time on other things.

Then poppy got interested in the new show. We watched a few episodes together and soon we were hooked. We're maybe a quarter of the way through the second season now. We're watching it the way you watch shows here in the future - multiple episodes at a time, streaming on Netflix.

The other day poppy and I were talking about the show, trying to figure out what it is we like about it so much. Of course, there's great writing and great acting. David Tennant is tremendous and is probably my favorite of the modern Doctors. The effects are even pretty good, which is something you definitely could not say about the original show; it was made on a shoestring budget and it showed. The monsters, weapons, and sets were infamously lame. Even on the new show some of the computer effects leave something to be desired. But the physical objects they've crafted are amazing - like the clockwork robots with creepy human face masks, ticking gear-filled innards, and saws that flip out of their arms.

Still, none of that is what makes the show truly great. What makes it great is the Doctor. The Doctor, and the host of totally normal people who are always there to help him save the universe.

Even though, as poppy pointed out to me, the show is really more properly categorized as horror than sci fi (a fact I realized was true with some surprise), it is also extraordinarily optimistic, with a wonderfully positive view of humanity. As the Doctor himself says, in 900 years he's never met anyone who wasn't important, and the stories bear out that theme. There are no unimportant characters, and in fact some of the most important characters are the most ordinary, normal people you could imagine, who simply see what has to be done and step out from the background to do it, saving themselves and the Doctor too more often than not.

The Doctor is a man whose true name is a secret, but who's chosen to call himself a healer. That's very important. That's how he sees himself. He arrives in the midst of chaos and trouble and he fixes things. He is the champion of the common man, the protector of the innocent, a radical pacifist who destroyed a weapons factory and replaced it with banana trees, and who goes into battle with nothing but a fancy screwdriver.

But like some real doctors, he can be arrogant, and he can be accused of having a God complex. He sees himself as the ultimate moral arbiter, the judge, the jury, and sometimes even the executioner. This conflict between his self identity as a healer and savior and his occasional habit of murdering his enemies is one of the central themes of the new show.
We meet him at the beginning of the series as the lone survivor of a huge and apocalyptic war, a war which he personally ended by destroying both sides. He's become a man capable of doing terrible things in the name of peace. But then he meets a woman named Rose and for once, the healer himself is healed. She reminds him of the difference between right and wrong, reminds him that there are things worth dying for, but very few things worth killing for. At the end of the season, he's given the same choice again: end a war by slaughtering both sides, or let the bad guys win. Be a killer or a coward. This time, he makes the other choice. "A coward any day." It's a powerful moment. His growth and change is nicely underlined by the fact that after this choice, he literally becomes a different person.

Doctor Who is a show that has the courage to never back away from the hard questions, to never let its heroes off easy. When the Doctor decides to return a criminal to her homeworld to face justice, she points out that that "justice" will be a cruel death, and that he must take responsibility for it. In the end he manages to avoid killing her, even after she betrays him, and instead gives her a second chance at life, quite literally.

The Doctor is not a human being, but he loves humanity, and he and his stories are deeply human, deeply moving, and full of bittersweet wisdom.
Tagged (?): Doctor Who (Not), TV (Not), Video (Not)
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Saturday, November 16, 2013 05:14 PM
Voltron Power Ranger Rescue Bot Palooza
 by Fëanor

A while back I gave Griffin the old Vehicle Voltron that my brother and I shared. This is really an impressive toy. It's fifteen separate vehicles that can be assembled into three larger vehicles, or into one gigantic robot. My folks had kept it intact in their attic, in its original box, complete with original styrofoam insert, all these years. Needless to say, the box was soon wrecked. Griff kind of liked it, especially the cars it uses for feet, but in general it sat forgotten in the corner of his play room.

Then, just recently, Griffin discovered Power Rangers. I'd been thinking for a while that he'd probably like this show, as it involves a team of guys, each wearing his own bright primary color suit, who rescue people and fight monsters, and also ride in gigantic transforming robot animals. It's kind of totally his thing. He'd been watching it for a while when he started taking his Transformers Rescue Bots toys, stacking them on top of each other, and calling them Rescue Bot Voltron. I was surprised he even remembered Voltron, but I guess I'd mentioned it a few times in connection with Power Rangers. I've always thought of Power Rangers as a lame, live-action rip-off of the original, far superior Voltron (although to be honest, Voltron was pretty lame, too). Anyway, when I heard him say that, I couldn't help myself. I went down into the basement and brought up the bag that contained Lion Force Voltron. Yep, we had that one, too, and my folks also kept it intact in their attic. Well, Griffin's a pretty big fan. He played with it continuously for a couple of hours. "These lion Transformers are pretty cool!" was his comment.

Anyway, more later. I gotta get back to this episode of Power Rangers. Did you know the Power Rangers Samurai Megazord has different powers depending on his hat?
Tagged (?): Children (Not), Griffin (Not), Toys (Not), TV (Not), Video (Not)
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Friday, January 18, 2013 02:07 PM
(Last updated on Friday, January 18, 2013 02:41 PM)
Superman
 by Fëanor

I feel like I might need to start a new tag or recurring feature about watching stuff with my kid, but I dunno. Anyway, the other day Griff asked me to put one of his shows on, and when I turned on the TV, the Superman cartoon from the '90s happened to be on. I watched it for a minute because... well, y'know, Superman cartoon! Then I was going to put on one of Griff's regular shows, but he stopped me. He wanted to watch that Superman guy. So he sat through the rest of that cartoon, and then watched a Batman cartoon.

Win!

Years ago poppy got me a DVD of the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons from the '40s (which would have originally played as shorts in movie theaters, maybe between two films in a double feature). They're amazing pieces of work, if seriously politically incorrect. The art is detailed and beautiful and done up right in lush Technicolor. Superman fights gorillas, volcanoes, dinosaurs, thieves with bullet cars, thieves with robot armies, thieves dressed up as Superman, giant reanimated mummy guards, birdmen from the Inner Earth, Japanese saboteurs (who are portrayed in regrettably stereotyped fashion), Nazis using African natives as their slaves (oy), and a Native American mad scientist who demands that the island of Manhattan be returned to his people (oh man). It is crazy, crazy stuff. But only so crazy - this was before the madness of the Silver Age when Superman gained a bunch of new powers. This is the Superman who is very strong, has X-ray vision, and can literally just leap tall buildings - he does not fly.

And Lois is always there with him, getting herself into trouble and needing to be saved. It's a bit of a troublesome dynamic, but it's a consolation at least that this Lois, while a bit of a jerk to Kent, is also brave as all hell, a bad-ass, and deep down a decent human being. She runs in to take pictures of the madness when a giant gorilla gets loose at the circus, but when she sees a child in danger, she drops the camera immediately and dashes in to help the child to safety with no thought for herself. And when she's caught on a runaway train and being shot at by criminals from a nearby car, she doesn't just cower in the corner; she picks up a discarded Tommy gun and shoots right back at them.

Needless to say, when Griff asked to see more Superman, I put on this DVD, and he loves it. He's been watching it over and over recently. Probably soon we should upgrade him to the more politically correct '90s cartoon. But this'll do for now.
Tagged (?): Cartoons (Not), Childhood (Not), Griffin (Not), Parenthood (Not), Parenting (Not), Superman (Not), TV (Not)
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Welcome to the blog of Jim Genzano, writer, web developer, husband, father, and enjoyer of things like the internet, movies, music, games, and books. For a more detailed run-down of who I am and what goes on here, read this.

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