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Thoughts on fall SFTV so far (spoilers)

September 28, 2015 2 comments

Just to keep this blog active, some reactions to the first week of fall TV:

Doctor Who (Saturdays, BBC America): Still fun to watch, but problematical. Steven Moffat’s execution is brilliant, but his concepts are limited. He keeps doing riffs on the same few ideas. How many times has he repeated the premise of the Doctor facing the end of his life and trying to hide from it? Shouldn’t we have gotten past that after Trenzalore? (And why didn’t he give someone his confession disc the last two or three times he thought his life was ending?) And most of Moffat’s plots are driven by bad guys trying to find, capture, or destroy the Doctor. This is no longer a show about the Doctor exploring the universe, it’s a show about the universe obsessing over the Doctor. It looks like this season is continuing in that vein, with the questions being raised about the Doctor’s confession and why he truly fled Gallifrey.

Moffat’s writing is essentially professional fanfiction. It’s all an expression of his deeply felt fandom for the character and the mythology — both here in and in Sherlock — and the problem is that he gives all the characters in his stories the same fixation on the hero that he has. Not only that, but he writes stories that are basically dramatized essays about the franchises he’s writing in, with the characters analyzing and deconstructing the leads and the basic tropes. I noticed that way back in the Sherlock debut episode, where the villain discussed Sherlock Holmes in a way that more fitted a literary critic analyzing an iconic character than a real-world criminal doing research on some private detective. Sometimes Moffat’s deconstructions can be brilliant, but sometimes they’re more self-indulgent, and he tends to repeat the same ones over and over.

Still, the second part of the opening storyline worked better than the first, with less padding. And Michelle Gomez isn’t quite as annoying as the Master/Missy as she was last season, though I still miss the original Masters whose acting was more in the vein of Vincent Price than Robin Williams.

Gotham (Mondays, FOX): Okay… just… no.

This is Jim Gordon. The epitome of the one good cop. Maybe willing to bend the rules for the greater good up to a point, but still an intrinsically honorable figure.

But now the show has crossed a line. It’s had Jim kill in service to an organized crime boss. Now, I’ve been engaged in online debates about whether it would constitute self-defense, since Jim was the one who started the confrontation. I posed the question to James Daily of the Law and the Multiverse blog, who provided a timely answer. Apparently Jim’s killing of the mobster would constitute justifiable self-defense, because it meets the two exceptions that allow the aggressor to make that claim: one, that he attacked nonlethally and was met with a lethal response, and two, that he ended the confrontation and was pursued. However, that doesn’t matter, because the killing happened as a result of a felony Jim committed, which makes it felony murder, and that overrides the justification defense.

So the show’s Jim Gordon is now a murderer. There is no coming back from that. This goes beyond Superman snapping Zod’s neck. There was at least a flimsy self-defense justification for that. This is a permanent stain on Gordon’s character (the show’s version of it), and it destroys the moral core that has always defined him and taints everything he achieves from now on. This was supposed to be a show about how Gordon cleaned up the corrupt Gotham establishment, not a show about how he became part of the corruption. He’s no longer someone I can root for, because he’s a murderer. The only options are that he either confesses and pays his debt — which he won’t do since it would end the show — or he spends the rest of his life covering up the fact that he committed murder in service to the Penguin. No matter how much good he does from now on, he will have to keep lying and covering up the truth in order to remain in a position to do it, and that means there will always be corruption at the core of it. That is not the show about Jim Gordon I wanted to see, and I don’t know if it’s a show I can continue to watch.

Also, Bruce, who was the one good thing about this show, has been dumbed down. He should’ve been able to crack that door code methodically just by entering numbers until he got a hit — and it shouldn’t have been that hard to guess that the code was his name. And in his scene with Jim, he should’ve seen that doing an “ugly thing” to do good wouldn’t work, because it would put him under Penguin’s thumb forever. This show has been stupid and incomprehensible in its choices from the start, but the one thing that really worked about it was the portrayal of young Bruce Wayne. It really captured his intelligence, his discipline, his ethics, and his reasoned choice to cope with his grief by dedicating himself to protecting others from having to suffer it. Now, I no longer have faith that will continue to be the case.

So I do not plan to watch Gotham anymore. Just thinking about last week’s episode makes me feel dumber. I no longer have any interest in this mess of a show. There has been some morbid entertainment value in watching it just to see how insane and incompetent it got, but at this point I just find it depressing.

Minority Report (Mondays, FOX): This show got poor ratings and reviews, but I liked it quite a bit. It’s a logical continuation of the movie, even if its lead characters’ point of view about Precrime is sort of the opposite of how the movie turned out — although the complications and moral questions of the process were raised, and hopefully the ethical ambiguity of psychic crime prediction will be explored.

While several characters are returning from the movie, the only returning actor is Daniel London as Wally the Caretaker. The others have been recast, though Laura Regan resembles Samantha Morton enough (from what I recall of her) that I can buy her as the same person. I like Meaghan Good as Detective Vega. She comes off as a competent detective and a reasonably charismatic lead, and is also really hot. The pilot maybe played up her sex appeal a bit much, with the bikini photo and the plunging necklines and such, but I’m not complaining. The tech-support woman with the tattoo on her face (Akeela, played by Li Jun Li) is pretty hot herself.

I liked the futurism. The environment wasn’t quite as consistently high-tech as it was in the movie, and I doubt the show will be able to sustain the level of CGI that the pilot was able to feature, but it was a reasonable continuation within those budgetary limits. But the futurism is good in another way, namely in acknowledging the demographic trends of the American population and giving us a nicely diverse cast, much more so than the overwhelmingly white cast of the movie. Also — “Washington Red Clouds” instead of Redskins. I like that.

I didn’t find the time to rewatch the movie before this, so I’m not sure if there are any subtle inconsistencies. So far it seems pretty solid, although I’m not sure whether the twins were fraternal or identical in the movie.

Blindspot (Mondays, NBC): Jaimie Alexander made it watchable, but the FBI guy is kind of dull. The premise feels like a rehash of John Doe but with a built-in excuse for more pseudo-topless scenes. And the mystery seems absurdly convoluted. They were all asking “Why would someone do this overcomplicated and weird thing to this woman,” and it all just seems to underline that whatever explanation we eventually get will just be a contrived excuse for this premise.

Plus I don’t see how it’s sustainable. If the bearded guy faked the terror threat to make the FBI trust “Jane,” does that mean all the tattoos will point to fake crimes and false leads? If so, what’s the point? This is another show I don’t feel any desire to keep watching.

Also, how can they possibly do a show about a tattooed lady and not name her Lydia?

The Muppets (Tuesdays, ABC): I found this amusing at times, although the “reality show” format isn’t my cup of tea, and the modern Muppets are a shadow of their original selves. Still, I appreciate the effort to bring back some of the original edginess to characters who have become perhaps a bit too Disney-sanitized, though maybe the show takes the “edge” a bit too far into cynicism. And it does seem there’s an effort to give the characters some real dimension and “humanity,” so to speak. I’m still not sure about this one, but I guess it’s worth a further look.

Limitless (Tuesdays, CBS): I waited to watch the pilot until I had a chance to see the movie, which I hadn’t seen before. And I kinda hated the movie. Stylistically, directorially, it was impressively done, but the lead character was basically reprehensible, and the movie was entirely too much on his side. The whole thing was about this guy using illegal and dishonest methods to gain wealth and power, and he ended up succeeding — not because he deserved to, but because he lucked into something that let him cheat his way to the top at the expense of everyone who got in his way. No moral, no lesson learned, no consequences for his misdeeds except to the people around him, just pure self-serving wish fulfillment in a dog-eat-dog world. The movie never even bothered to make clear whether he actually murdered that socialite or was framed for it, because the movie was so completely amoral that it didn’t matter to the narrative if he did murder her, so long as he got away with it and continued his rise to the top.

Now, the only reason I bothered with the movie — having concluded from the reviews at the time that it wouldn’t be my cup of tea, and boy, were they right — was because I’d heard the series pilot was so well-received by critics. But the pilot didn’t blow me away. Its protagonist is definitely an improvement over the smug, selfish, contemptible slimeball that is Eddie Morra; Brian is just as much of a loser to start out, but he’s a decent guy who’s motivated more by helping other people than by advancing himself. But in a lot of ways, the pilot just felt like an imitation of the movie, right down to repeating some of the same plot beats and copying its stylistic devices.

The show has a bit more diversity in its cast than the movie did (the film’s cast was almost exclusively white despite being set in New York City), but I don’t find the FBI-agent partner all that interesting. And I’m not sure the premise or the execution is enough to make it stand out from the procedural pack. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of a show about a protagonist whose advantages come from using an illegal drug — particularly with the downside of the drug being conveniently swept aside. It would’ve been more interesting if he did have to deal with the downside, if there were risks and costs to using it too often. It’s not good to make things too easy for the hero. This is another show that I don’t find a compelling reason to keep watching.

Heroes Reborn (Thursdays, NBC): I was really, really skeptical of this going in, unsure if I even wanted to give it a try. But it started out very strong, with the opening sequence in Odessa and the montage that followed it. It started to get a bit less interesting once it got to “Now,” but it’s still a lot better than the later seasons of the original, perhaps because it has less baggage.

It’s weird to hear the powered people called Evos, because the same name (as an acronym, E.V.O.) was used for the nanite-created mutants in the Generator Rex animated series. Also it bugs me that it’s using the same conceit as so many other similar series and using the term “human” for people without unusual abilities, implicitly defining the powered as nonhuman rather than just another subset of humanity.

The “El Vengador” plot kind of makes sense. If anyone were really going to fight crime in a mask, it’d probably be someone steeped in luchador culture. Although the plotline with the brothers and the mantle being passed on was kind of predictable and hokey. And I would’ve preferred it if the priest had been a normal person and had just been helping evos because helping the downtrodden is what priests are supposed to do.

The Evernow manga was put together wrong, bound on the left like an American book. Plus it was wider than it was tall, which isn’t like the manga I’ve seen, though I can’t rule out that there are some like that. And… seriously? She turns into a video game character? What kind of power is that? (Although I suspect she’s actually a game character turned into a flesh-and-blood girl by her father/creator’s power. She seems a bit too unreal in the flesh, in the way she dresses and the fact that she’s somehow unaware that her father created a game/manga character identical to her.)

I’m not thrilled by all the “It’s coming” stuff. Building the season around a looming apocalypse is a well the original series went to repeatedly, and I was hoping the revival would have some new tricks. Still, it’s got my interest enough to keep me watching.

Continuum (Fridays, Syfy): This is actually already halfway through its 6-episode final season, and it feels a bit rushed. But it does mean that a lot is happening in every episode. Although some of it feels a bit too abbreviated, like how quickly Kiera and Alec have gotten chummy with the surviving members of Liber8 after being at odds with them for so long. I mean, I know they have a common enemy now, but still, she sure warmed up to them in a hurry. And Brad Tonkin has become kind of a vague figure; his ambiguous agenda is critical to the story, but we aren’t getting any insights into what’s happening in his head. It also feels like they’re trying to have it both ways on the question of whether it’s possible for Kiera to return to her timeline and her family, which it really shouldn’t be anymore.

I’ve been having trouble with the idea of Kellog, of all people, being the ultimate big bad (although I think he may be a red herring with Curtis and the Traveler being the real threat), but Travis summed it up effectively in “Power Hour,” the latest episode aired in the US. Kellog represents greed, the profit motive above all other priorities, and that’s the same mentality that led to the dystopia of Kiera’s future and the worse dystopia of Brad’s future, as well as the mentality behind Piron’s co-opting of the police force and Other Alec’s turn to the dark side. (You could throw in Dillon’s moral degeneration, though in his case it was a greed for control and authoritarian power rather than wealth.) Greed is essentially the ultimate evil in the series, and out of all the time travellers, Kellog is the only one whose primary allegiance is to greed. So maybe it’s fitting that he ended up at the main villain. And his apparent benevolence early on could’ve been part of that, showing how harmless and appealing greed can seem to be. Although that’s probably reading too much into it.

Okay, so overall I’m not that impressed with last week’s crop of new shows. The imports Doctor Who and Continuum are the big ones for me so far, and otherwise, Minority ReportThe Muppets, and Heroes Reborn are the only ones I find worth continuing with, and none of them has unambiguously impressed me.

Luckily, the big guns are coming back pretty soon: Agents of SHIELD tomorrow night, Sleepy Hollow this Thursday (although with another new showrunner, so there’s no telling if it’ll recover in quality after the weak second season), and, thank goodness, the return of The Flash, Arrow, and iZombie next week. Still a month from Supergirl, though, and we have to wait until November for The Librarians, Elementary, and Jessica JonesPerson of Interest isn’t even scheduled yet. (I’m not counting Grimm, since I’m not watching anymore. It’s been getting increasingly bad for the past two seasons, and last season’s finale was enough to turn me off for good.) Will I post about those shows? Probably not regularly, but we’ll see.

I’m still here…

September 22, 2015 3 comments

Wow, I haven’t posted in over a month! Sorry about that. What have I been up to this past month? Let’s see…

Mostly I’ve been writing my DTI novella Time Lock, which I finished last week. It was rather involved, because the premise entails some complicated timey-wimey stuff that required a fair amount of math. Not very complicated math — I’m not up to that — but just a single formula that I had to apply scene-by-scene to keep track of certain interrelationships. I also had to read a bunch of scenes aloud after writing them and time them on a stopwatch. The reasons for this will become clear when the story is published. Let’s just say I’ve found a way to play with time that Star Trek has almost never used before, certainly not in this way. I’m rather pleased with how the story turned out, but it was hard work getting there. I’m also pleased that the story gave me the opportunity to pick up on a thread or two from one of my older Trek novels — and to fix a continuity error I discovered in my own prior work.

After that, I reviewed the copyedits for Rise of the Federation: Live by the Code, which I just finished yesterday. Dealing with copyedits can be frustrating. Copyeditors… well, their job is to focus on grammar and usage, but sometimes they forget that spoken dialogue isn’t always grammatically perfect, and that trying to make it so can rob characters of their individual voices. Some copyeditors also tend to be too intolerant of repeated words. Sometimes it’s good to avoid repeating a word or phrase within the same couple of lines, sometimes it’s redundant, but sometimes repetition is a valuable device. Sometimes repetition is for emphasis. Sometimes repetition is for rhythm. Sometimes repetition is just the way people talk. Sometimes… okay, point made.

There are also some really arbitrary grammatical preferences that copyeditors seem to think are actual rules, like insisting on “more than x items” rather than “over x items,” or on “the thing that is” rather than “the thing which is,” the latter being the way I happen to talk and write, a usage which is commonly found in countless older works of fiction but has somehow randomly come to be seen as inappropriate today.

So now I’m free of immediate deadlines. I still have to get started on my original-series Star Trek novel The Face of the Unknown, but I have enough leeway there that I can spend the next month or so focused on my original writing. I’m going to do one more pass on a spec novel I’m about to submit, then hopefully make some progress on a couple of original stories.

What else has been going on in my life? Well, my computer is acting up, and I’m far from competent to deal with it. Twice in one day, I had Firefox freeze my computer completely and force me to reboot by holding the power button down for five seconds until it shut down. I had a scare when the computer kept shutting off right after I tried turning it back on, eventually giving me a screen that let me restart it in “last safe mode” or something. I’ve been afraid to use Firefox since then and have been using Chrome, but I don’t like Chrome. I hate the way it won’t let me open a new tab in a foreground window. I don’t like it that there’s no good Chrome extension for toggling animated gifs on and off like there is for Firefox. And for some reason, I can’t get decent resolution watching Netflix streams on Chrome. (Although YouTube’s new video format doesn’t play right on Firefox — I hate the lack of a uniform standard for online video.)

Yesterday, though, something else happened — a file within my Avast antivirus program called avastSvc.exe was taking up 99 percent of my CPU usage and wouldn’t stop until I did another power-button forced reboot. (It’s possible that this was the real cause of my Firefox problems, though I’m not sure.) I looked into it, and while I gather there are some malware programs using that filename, I checked and this file is in the Avast directory where it belongs. Also, I couldn’t get Avast to open while it was running, meaning it probably is connected. I looked into some instructions about how to deal with the problem, but the thing about looking online for computer advice is that you tend to get multiple conflicting suggestions, and that just confuses me more. Yeah, I know I write science fiction for a living, but I’m really dumb when it comes to working with actual computers. I’ve never had an aptitude for electronics or programming or anything really practical or applied. I’m really not sure what to do, and I’m just hoping it doesn’t recur.

I’ve also been having a bit of a problem with my remote controls. I use a rather old Sony amplifier/receiver thingy to feed from my TV, DVD, etc. to my speakers, and the mute button has gotten increasingly unresponsive, so that I had to wrestle viciously with it to get it to mute the sound. And I’d never been able to get the universal remote that came with the cable box to work with the amplifier. So I looked into the problem online and found that there was a sneakily hidden, sort of easter-egg command I could use to switch a setting on the amplifier so that it would work with universal remotes, and yay, it worked! But then I discovered that the original remote no longer worked on that setting (some models of remote could be switched to that channel, but not this one), and I couldn’t use the universal remote to switch the input channels from, say, TV to DVD. I can only do that by manually pushing a button on the front of the amplifier now. Also, I have to remember to switch modes on the universal remote between controlling the cable box and controlling the volume. I’m adjusting to that, but the ideal would be to get the old remote working again. I looked into some online instructions for taking a remote apart and cleaning the contacts, but I couldn’t get the remote to come apart. I was able to pry it open on one end after a lot of trial and error, but I couldn’t get it open beyond that no matter how I tried. And buying a replacement online would cost 25-30 bucks. So I guess I’m stuck with the current state of affairs, which isn’t perfect but is better than it was.

Oh, yes, and my watch band broke. It’s a fabric band, but it’s plastic where it attaches to the watch, and I guess it got bent too far or too often at that point and split nearly all the way through. I looked for a replacement band online, but apparently the fabric bands have been discontinued, although you can still get new watches with them, which is bizarre. I could’ve gotten a latex band, but I don’t like those because they tend to break easily. So I took the watch back to where I’d bought it to see if they could get me a replacement band, and they sent it back to the manufacturer to get it repaired… and that was 16 days ago. I called last week, and apparently it only reached the manufacturer 5 days later. I haven’t heard anything back, and I’m getting annoyed. I’ve been wearing my previous watch, whose case and latex band are deteriorating, but which still tells the time well enough. I’m lucky its battery was still good after four years, though I think it’s borderline, since the display faded out when I held the buttons down to reset the time. Still, I want my current watch back. This wait is ridiculous. I probably could’ve just taken it to some other store that sells watch bands and found a suitable substitute much quicker than this.

Let’s see, I’ve also been getting a bit more exercise lately. I’d really let myself get sedentary this past few months, but I’m trying to change that. I put air back in my bike tires and have done a bit of riding. The other day, I walked down the really steep steps and hills to Findlay Market to get some fresh produce, then walked back up the longer and slightly less steep way, which was very tiring in my current out-of-shape condition — but I felt invigorated afterward, not just for the rest of the day but on following days as well. Also, last week, I drove over to the lake area in Burnet Woods — which is within walking distance, but I had other errands to run in that area and I just wanted to hang out in the park a bit first — and that was really pleasant. My little local park is okay, but the lake (well, large pond) and the woods around it are really a soothing environment. I think I should go there more often, and walk next time. In theory it’d be nice to ride my bike over there, but it’s somewhat downhill from here, and I know from experience that biking back up from that vicinity takes a lot out of me, far more than I could handle in my current condition. It’s a lot harder to bike uphill than to walk uphill.

Oh, and when I went down to Findlay Market, I saw that the downtown streetcar project is making good progress. There’s actually a streetcar maintenance building around there now, with side tracks that go around and through it, which is rather neat, like a miniature railroad depot. There are also streetcar stops in place on raised sections of the sidewalk, and the overhead wiring is in place along the part of the rails I saw. This is really happening! Though apparently it’s still about a year from completion, darn it.

The reason I went down to Findlay Market for produce — and on those errands last week — is because the local Kroger has closed for a year to get rebuilt into a bigger superstore, and I need to find other places to shop. There are a couple of other Krogers that aren’t too far away, but they’re far enough that I’d prefer closer options when practical — convenience stores, the pharmacy, that sort of thing. The nearest open Kroger is three times as far and doesn’t have as good a selection. There’s a slightly closer market, a former IGA that’s been taken over by a local co-op, but I don’t think it’s reopened yet. When it does, it might be my best option. Still, I saw the plans for the new local Kroger, and it’s going to be quite an improvement, particularly where parking is concerned, since the new lot will be on nearer side of the block and have an exit near the corner closest to my home, instead of the opposite corner where it is now. Hmm, I guess it and the streetcar will be opening around the same time.

I suppose I could talk about the TV shows I’ve been watching, but maybe I should save that for another post, covering the new fall shows and my thoughts on them, and maybe some other recent shows. I’ll just say that I’ve decided to work my way systematically through all of classic Doctor Who, instead of just borrowing DVDs randomly when I happened to find them at the library. The thing is, I want to do it on DVD whenever possible so I can watch the wonderfully in-depth bonus features they have, so it’s slow going — I’m still early in season 2. But I’ve decided I’m also going to watch the missing-episode reconstructions that can be found online, using the surviving audio and set photos. I’ve read the novelizations of those episodes, seen the surviving bits and pieces, but I’ve never watched the recons, so I’m finally starting to do that. The reconstruction of “Marco Polo,” the first missing serial, was terrific. The recons of the missing episodes of “The Reign of Terror” weren’t as good, but I think I prefer them to the Flash-animated recreations that were released with the DVD.

Well, I suppose that’s enough catching up for this morning. Especially since it’s now just after noon.

Oh, how about that… my computer’s clock is running over (or more than) five minutes ahead of the actual time. It often runs a minute or two fast, but five is unusual. I wonder if that’s a symptom of its problems.

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