Making the world a better place, one show at a time.

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Washington, DC, United States
I guess you would like to know a little bit about the person making all these proclamations upon good taste and horrid characters. I'm Andrea and when I was 15 I fell in love. An hour after meeting "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" I was forever altered in the way only love can, and I never questioned for one minute afterwards that television offered me an amazing chance to experience lives and moments that I could never imagine. So now, when I'm not getting distracted by my real life, I write about TV. I also read, am finishing a Master's degree in English Literature, travel, am attempting to learn vegan cooking, am the 5th of 6 children, and drive my roommate nuts by constantly cleaning our already clean apartment. Now that we're old friends, time for you to take my opinions as the be all and end all.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Doctor Who: Love Lights the Way

(Doctor Who: S6, E15 "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe")

My father died 17 years and 1 day ago.  Today would have been his 67th birthday.  In 3 days it will be my 29th birthday.

It may be needless to say that I have been a little drawn in on myself the last few days.  It happens every year at this time.  To call it depression isn't the right word.  Closed would be more accurate.  My heart closes, protecting itself from regrets of final mistakes and lost possibilities.  Around noon I was struck by a thought.  "Hey, I totally missed watching the Doctor Who Christmas special this year.  I don't really feel like doing anything right now, I think I'll watch that."  You see, in some respects I have very good instincts; even when I would rather not find an answer, something inside me will show me what I need.

And at it's best Doctor Who is what we all need.  We all need love.  We all need magic.  We all need strength in our suffering.  We all need rest in forgiveness.

On Christmas Eve 1941 Madge makes a wish.  Though we don't hear it, the Doctor does.  She wishes for a beautiful Christmas to ease the news she must tell her children that their father's plane has been lost over the Channel and that he has died in service of his country.  To repay her kindness in helping him a few years earlier when he fell from the sky in a backwards space suit, the Doctor meets Madge and her children Lily and Ceril at an old house as The Caretaker.  He's renovated the house with all children could ever ask for; moving furniture, a lifetime of toys, a fabulous tree, and a huge present to be opened the next morning.  Ceril can't wait and in the night opens the present: a doorway into a beautiful snow-filled forest, the prefect Christmas adventure.  The Doctor and Lily, and then Madge, all go through the box in search of Ceril, who has been taken by the trees, who are trying to transport their life-forces off the planet before it is burned for fuel.  Madge, as a mother, is able to take the life-forces into herself, to be a lifeboat for them, and must use her memories of home to guide their ship through the time vortex.  She wishes to hold onto her happy memories of her husband, and fights against seeing his last moments, but by facing the truth of his death, is able to create a light for his plane to follow, and the family is reunited on Christmas morning.  In thanks, and with a great deal of practicality, she orders the Doctor that he is not to spend Christmas alone, that he must go to his friends who think he has died. Forced by the unassailable logic of a practical mum, the Doctor goes to Amy and Rory, who set a place for him at dinner every year.  River told them that he wasn't really dead (of course!) and after a few shots from a squirt gun for his obstinacy, Amy and Rory lead him into their home, with the simplicity that love allows.  The Doctor allows himself a few private tears of happiness.

Outside of fiction space and time travel will not allow a lost loved one to return to us.  In that Doctor Who is beautiful wish-fulfillment.  There is no mad man with a box who can circumvent death.  But that does not relegate Doctor Who into trivial escapism, a wouldn't-it-be-nice fantasy.  Presents do not negate the loss of a parent, but pleasure is a comfort that reminds us that we will not always be in pain.  In grief our suffering is extreme, but to accept that suffering is an expression of the depth of our love.  And our love cannot be taken from us.  Death may physically separate husband from wife, parent from child, friend from friend, but with honesty in our heart, the true acknowledgement of both joy and sorrow, our love unfolds beyond past and future as the light of our present.

Happy Birthday Dad.  I love you.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Top 5: Shows I Actually Need to Finish

Haha, what right do I have to talk about the proper ending of a TV show when it turns out that I have not gotten around to watching the finale of some of my most beloved shows?

Sometimes life gets in the way and you get behind on a show and it feels like you'll never catch up.  Or sometimes a show just really goes downhill and you have to give up or you will lose all your good memories of when the show was not sucktastic.

But it's pretty clear to me (and why don't I share it with you) that I have a few projects hanging over my head: shows that are done and complete that finishing my own viewing will provide me with a little peace of mind.  Or at least spare me the embarrassment of having to say "yeah, I didn't finish that..."

Friday Night Lights
Last Episode I Watched: Season 5, Episode 1
Why I Stopped Watching:  I just couldn't cry that much.  No seriously, that is the reason.  Knowing that  by the time it aired on NBC Friday Night Lights was officially and forever over, that there would be no more, that the fat lady had most definitely sung, made it kind of impossible for me to watch without just sobbing uncontrollably.  So much crying.  So I decided I didn't want to cry that much.  So I didn't watch.  Maybe I should put on my big girl pants...

Last Episode I Watched: Season 6, Episode 5
Why I Stopped Watching:  Do I need to say why?  Juliet was dead.  It was boring.

Last Episode I Watched: Season 4, Episode 1
Why I Stopped Watching: I've made no secret of my ambivalence toward Sarah.  I've never really warmed to her and I get super annoyed when a show tells me how much I am supposed to love someone that I find kind of boring and selfish.  (This is one of my most pet of pet peeves.  I HATE it when a show, through dialogue, tries to impart upon me a singular opinion of a character that either isn't or can't be established through that character's action.  Hence my unending fury with Kate from Lost or Don from Mad Men.)  So when Chuck became pretty much completely about Chuck and Sarah's relationship, I just couldn't really work up much enthusiasm for watching.  I wanted to want to watch it, but I just couldn't take yet another discussion of their love.

The Wire
Last Episode I Watched: Season 3, Episode 7 (I think)
Why I Stopped Watching:  Because I thought my heart was going to explode.  In the scene where Stinger tells Avon that he had Avon's nephew killed in prison, I literally thought that I was going to have a heart attack, it was so frakking tense.  And that is always what it feels watching The Wire.  So I decided I needed a break.  And that break has turned into a year and a half.

Last Episode I Watched: oh my frakking goodness I have no idea!
Why I Stopped Watching:  It would seem after my rant-y-ness about Chuck that I wouldn't in any way endorse a show that really had no plot movement aside from who-is-getting-together-with-whom, but I really enjoy(ed) Greek.  It's simple, sweet, and surprisingly funny.  Time.  Time is why I stopped watching.  Each episode is 42 minutes, and it just never seemed to fit into the time that I had to watch it.  But I think I can work with that.  I mean, I know how it ends for Cappie and Casey (is there really any question about that?), but I would like to know what happens to everyone else.  To the Netflix!

The TV Girl

Thursday, July 26, 2012

You Make Me End Where I Begun: Is There Any Way To End a Show Well?

I got a lovely shout out yesterday from my friend Calah on her blog (yup, I am the Andrea who couldn't manage to get along with a three year old) and it made me think "wow, I haven't blogged anything in FOREVER."  (In my defense, I have that thought every day, there have just been more important things in my life for the last year.)

So, the conversation Calah and I were having about all the failures of the BSG final season has got me thinking: is there any "good" ending to a show?

When shows end suddenly or after an unintentionally short run (Firefly being the prime example) viewers are often left with questions about storylines that never get answered, relationships left eternally in limbo, and bitterness towards TV executives who seems to find joy in the pain of the poor and innocent.  It hurts when you love something and it ends because not enough people out there are smart enough to love it too.  Couple this natural disappointment with frustrated curiosity ("wait, what would have happened if they had been given more episodes?") and suddenly you're sitting there mired in bitterness over the "terrible ending" of a beloved show.

Conversely, when a show has a good long run it can work itself into a corner ("tell me you have an exit strategy!") and when the planned and expected final arrives all the threads of the show are such a jumble the ending makes no sense.  My friend Alissa once quoted our friend Katy to express her own anger on this subject: "sometimes I think everything is fine, and then I remember how Lost ended."  I haven't gotten around to the end of Lost (the last 13 episodes have been sitting in the back of my mind for like 2 years), but I know what she's talking about.  There is nothing quite like watching a show for YEARS, waiting impatiently while it is on hiatus, revolving in your mind the various possibilities of how things will turn out, discussing the characters to the point where you forget that they are fictional, only to get to an ending that seems to be "well, sorry folks, we fucked ourselves royal and then just gave up trying."  I have professed many profanity-riddled diatribes against the sense of time-waste and emotional manipulation that spews forth from the soul when the screen goes black on a much anticipated finale that amounts to little more than a middle finger to my devotion.  The ending of Felicity still makes me livid.  (J.J. Abrams was disappointing me long before any plane crashes.)

Is there no solution?  Is there no way for a show to end that doesn't leave a scorched earth of angry viewers and backtracking writers?  Are we all doomed?

Well, no.  The easiest solution would be for me to care about TV less.  Don't care as much means won't be as disappointed.  But since that is NEVER going to happen, let's look at realistic solutions.

I think that the ending of a show is satisfying to the viewer when the show fulfills the promise made in the pilot (or I suppose we should say, at the outset, since not all pilot episodes are equal and sometimes it takes shows a few episodes to find themselves).  I am not necessarily talking about promises made by writers and producers in interviews and at conventions, though sometimes that factors into things.  I'm talking about the expectation evoked in the viewer based on premise, plotting, characters and the underlying moral and metaphysical perspective of the created world.  In a great pilot all of these elements are present, while in an excellent pilot all of these elements are fully developed and integrated into a whole (Supernatural is a case in point).  People are quick to scoff at the idea of "well, I guess we know what we are going to get for this" without acknowledging that it is completely natural that when we are confronted with a certain set of circumstances we expect a certain outcome.  It's not a bad thing.  (Although since this principle doesn't discriminate by taste, this does account for the continued existence of such crap as The Bachelor and Grey's Anatomy.  Those viewers get exactly what they were promised, even if it's garbage.)

So, do any shows actually worth watching live up to my high standards?  You might be surprised to learn, yes.  For example, Spaced.  The promise at the beginning of Spaced is that together Tim and Daisy will help each other towards functional adulthood by forming a loving bond that creates a family.    And they do.  Tim and Daisy work to bring out the best in each other, providing both friendly distraction and frank reality, so that neither wastes their talents in fugue state of a post university haze.  Behind the fake sexual relationship Tim and Daisy present in order to rent their apartment (man, Britain doesn't make any sense to me) real intimacy develops and that intimacy does exactly what it should: opens Tim and Daisy up to connecting with others, through which their friends and neighbors become kin.  The ending of Spaced isn't satisfying simply because Tim and Daisy are "together" at the end.  It's satisfying because they are both better people for loving each other and while understanding the joy and responsibility their relationship will require they both choose it.  The ending of Spaced is perfect because it is Tim and Daisy sitting on their couch, as they have for the whole show, but a little wiser and a great deal happier because they are the center of a community and no longer isolated individuals.

The ending of The O.C. is also great.

The TV Girl

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Killing: Of My Time and Patience

In January I started teaching 3rd grade, which has left precious little time for watching TV, let alone writing about it.  But, I have developed a new category of TV for myself which I call "TV for grading and worksheeting."  And it is exactly what it sounds like; shows that I watch while I'm grading math homework or making vocabulary worksheets or planning my next belabored science lesson.

Last weekend/week my accompaniment was AMC's The Killing a show now famous for it's potentially frustrating season ending.  The Killing follows three threads of the investigation into the murder of Rosie Larsen (Katie Findlay): the emotionally damaged and ethically compromised police detectives Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman); the working class family with a suspicious history Stan and Mitch Larsen (Brent Sexton  and Michelle Forbes); and the shinny mayoral candidate Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell) who may have more to hide than his affair with his campaign manager Gwen Eaton (Kristin Lehman).  Over roughly two weeks, we plod along as the Seattle rain alternately soaks and mists the various characters while they brood, cry, stare at seemingly random objects, cry, chase down false leads, cry, give obnoxiously self-righteous political speeches, cry, stumble accidentally onto evidence, cry, oh and, cry.  The season does end with an arrest, but in keeping with the general themes of evasion and incompetence, some of the evidence is fake.

Have I indicated properly that this show is rather pedantic?

The Killing isn't exactly boring, it's more that it's detached.  With a moody, understated and a torpidly paced crime drama the audience needs an investment in the outcome achieved in one (or more) of three ways: through understanding and connection to the victim; through a superbly crafted villain; or through the (relative) integrity and humanity of the investigating officer.

We never really find out very much about Rosie Larsen (for all they say her name all the frakking time) and what we do find out is too late to be sensible or have a great deal of impact.  The fact is that Linden and Holder don't really investigate Rosie's life.  They accept without question a few cliched assurances from Rosie's friends and teachers that Rosie was "a nice girl who loved life but never got into trouble." When they immediately find evidence that at the very least calls into question these reassuring but shallow descriptions (Rosie, whose from a struggling blue-collar family has a pair of 2,000 dollar high heals in her locker at school), Linden and Holder don't follow through with any urgency because the Larsen react with the typical "you don't know anything about our baby girl" when the detectives ask the first time if Rosie could have been hiding anything.  This is a deeply troubling exchange because it exposes the crux of the difficulty of this show.  No, Linden and Holder (and the audience by extension) don't know anything about Rosie.  It is their job to find out everything they can about her in order to find out where, when, how and most importantly BY WHOM she was killed, but at the slightest opposition to the unpleasantness of personal questions, they allow themselves to be bullied into simply not doing as they are supposed to.  Therefore their investigation is completely haphazard, and the audience has little more than passing curiosity in who the murder is.  It seems unlikely that one could find a murderer without more than a passing glance at the victim's life choices, and it is almost impossible to engage an audience when the core character uniting the various story-lines is more of a void than anything.

Further obscuring the familial element is the serious miscasting of Michelle Forbes.  I really like Ms. Forbes and anyone who can play a legitimate nemesis to Admiral William Adama isn't a lightweight.  But she is not remotely maternal and so her overwrought emotional exhibitionism never gave the sense of genuine grief.  At one point, supposedly so distracted with sorrow for her slain daughter, she almost kills her two young sons by leaving them in a running car in a locked garage, but a moment that should be terrifying comes off as strange tangential event because Mrs. Larsen gives the impression of a weepy Alzheimer's patient.  It doesn't help the situation that the character's name is "Mitch," giving no room for softness or nurturing instinct.

As for a captivating antagonist,  The Killing offers up all the usual (and male) suspects; the rich douchebag ex-boyfriend, the now drug-addled childhood friend, the formerly mobbed-up dad, the possibly sexually exploitative teacher, the obsessive family friend, the too-perfect politician.  But the brush is too broad.  There isn't enough heft to any of them to justify the brutality with which Rosie is killed.  Nor do any of the possible killers have the psychological intricacies to fascinate the audience.  In order (I assume) to keep the audience guessing about the identity of the murderer by overloading the show with options there isn't any room to layer the characters in a way that would lead the audience to wonder both IF a certain character COULD have killed Rosie but also WHY WHOULD he have killed her.  In choosing breadth over depth another avenue of engagement is closed off to the audience.

So without an empathetic victim or a compelling villain the burden is on the detective to carry the show, and ostensibly Det. Sarah Linden appears to be the protagonist, but again The Killing seems to know what it was supposed to do but then just didn't.  Linden finds Rosie's body on what is supposed to be her last day at the Seattle Police Department before she moves with her son to Sonoma, CA to get married.  That is the basic pattern of most episodes; today will be Linden's last day and then she'll hand the investigation fully over to Holder but at the last minute she always misses her flight because she is emotionally incapable of leaving the case unsolved and isn't 100 % committed to her fiance.  Her obsessiveness in her profession life is balanced out nicely by an almost complete cluelessness about even the most basic facts about her 13 year old son Jack.  Maybe it's that Linden is rather bad at her job that made me actually laugh out loud to find out around the mid-point of the season that Linden once became so consumed by a case that she ended up a patient at a mental hospital in a state of waking coma.  Really, I laughed, because it just struck me as ridiculous.  No, Linden is never with her son, is utterly oblivious to the behavioral issues he is having, and can't even work up the facial expression to pretend she wants to get married, but none of that is shown to be because she is so hard at work investigating Rosie's murder by following up witness statements, verifying alibis or pinning down Rosie's whereabouts before she was murdered.  She goes running, chews gum, and looks piercingly at videos, photographs or docks and (not kidding here) gets caught up in a totally bizarre and distracting terrorism plot-line, but all without either a systematic approach or much fruitful result.  I mean really, if you're totally absorbed in you job, shouldn't you at least be good at it?  Furthermore, at no point are we convinced of some overriding sense of justice or duty that animates this woman that would at least give some credence to her own lack of interest in her personal life.

There is a failure of motivating in The Killing.  There is no distinct motivation of Rosie's murder, for Linden's personality, or for the audience to watch.

The TV Girl