Peter (hujhax) wrote,

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... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

Books:  Hawkeye vols. 1-4, Medical School for Everyone: Emergency Medicine, Snow Crash
Movies:  <none>
TV:  Salt Fat Acid Heat, Wynonna Earp (season 1)
Other: Anastasia (touring musical)

Hawkeye vols. 1-4
These are the four trade paperbacks that collect the Matt Fraction and (mostly) David Aja run of Hawkeye from 2013 to 2014.

Okay, after that mishap with the Leia comic, we're back to our regular program of "comics that are doing the best genre storytelling out there".

With Hawkeye, I want to talk first about narrative complexity.  And I'm using that to mean a feeling of deliberate, purposeful construction — like every piece matters.  For instance, in one issue you see one side of a phone conversation; in another issue, you see the other side of the phone conversation; and in that moment, your brain pieces together how everything lines up.  This run of Hawkeye uses particular trick multiple times, and honestly that's the simplest bit of intricacy they pull off.  The narrative constantly buzzes around, telling a story piecewise, skipping back into flashbacks, putting two threads in parallel.

And even for the stretches that go in straight, narrative order they do a brilliant job of using the comics form to get across meaning.  I don't know enough about comics to express this properly, beyond saying "this is very much a comic, and not a storyboard for a movie".  They pull tricks like using sporadic black panels to depict a character repeatedly blacking out, or crazily precise 'match cuts' between frames, or doing some typographic wizardry in speech balloons to do one of the best depictions of hearing loss I've seen in any medium.

And even beyond that, they take some hard left turns into some crazy, stylized diversions.  One issue is, end to end, a seemingly-unrelated Peanuts-esque holiday special.  One issue is (1) told from the POV of the hero's dog, and (2) is basically a Chris Ware comic. 

In some ways, it's an analog to Legion, artily leaning on its medium to convey meaning, in a pop genre that doesn't necessarily do that.  But this Fraction/Aja run of Hawkeye has a much stronger emotional story to tell than season 1 of Legion did.  Every crazy narrative whirligig they're throwing in is serving that story.

And what's weird to me is that the story they're choosing to tell is a cliché, and one that doesn't *usually* work.  It's basically about the lone-wolf crimefighter who doesn't let anybody get too close, and has to take down the baddies on his *own*, man, and has lots of fraught relationships because of that attitude.  You can draw a line from this to every regrettable late-career Frank Miller story, or to House, M. D., or even to the tiresome sitcoms where a wacky lead dude gets results while some Woman Who Says No stares balefully at him.

The surprise to me is that it doesn't come off as a *celebration* of self-flaggelating toxic masculinity.[1]  I have to figure they're very precise about this; it's like a Roadrunner cartoon — there are rules you have to follow to make the thing work.  Here, the ideal pattern is: (1) Hawkeye finds out about something bad; (2) Hawkeye bats away reasonable support and is going to take care of it himself; (3) the mission goes wrong in the exact way that his friends predicted it would; and (4) accepting help, he cleverly digs himself out of the hole.  They don't always follow this to the letter, but it's a clear enough pattern that, when they do it in a Peanuts-esque holiday-special dream sequence, it feels of a piece with the rest of the comic.

There are two crucial differences here between this story structure and other lone-wolf stories.  First, everyone sees through Hawkeye.  Everybody knows that he's got personal issues that make him act like this, and everybody knows that this is not a good thing, and everybody bluntly calls him on it.  In other, lesser stories, everybody's kind of in awe of the lone wolf — they all just think he's OMG SO COOL for taking on the baddies himself.  And second, handling everything himself is always a terrible idea.  He's trying to do the right thing, yes, but his stand-off-ishness leads him to use bad strategies.  In other, lesser stories, the lone wolf finds GREAT SUCCESS, and the only character arcs in the story have the last few holdouts (e.g., the sergeant who asked for the hero's badge and gun) coming around to join the cheering section.

So the comic isn't celebrating this hypermasculine "go it alone" attitude.  If anything, the comic feels sorry for him.  It's a sign of how hurt he is, and it's making him shoot himself in the foot, over and over and over.  The overall arc is about slowly getting over it, and taking the first grudging steps to finding a community when he's not clocked in with the Avengers.

It makes sense, then, that the final Big Bads are, of all things, real-estate developers.  First, the comic is set (mostly) in New York City, and "evil real-estate development" is the most NYC supervillain plan that ever NYC'd.  But also, these are people threatening his community, and *finding* a community is what this story has been all about all along.

And related to that, I love how convincing this comic is in its portrayal of New York.  I've only paid brief visits to the city, but this feels like the work of people who love the city, and who want to get it right.  I was looking up the names of neighborhoods, and suddenly dumbstruck by an episode that's just about Hurricane Sandy hitting the coast.  Their specificity is thrown into even sharper relief when Kate Bishop travels to LA for a number of issues, and you see how effortlessly they evoke the west coast instead.

It's a great comic, and well worth your valuable time.

Medical School for Everyone: Emergency Medicine by Dr. Roy Benaroch [audiocourse]
This is the 2015 Teaching Company audiocourse that illustrates basic principles of emergency medicine.  There's a transcript of the whole course (!) here.

This was very impressive.  Medicine is a daunting subject, with infinite facts to memorize and tons of specialized knowledge people outside of health care never encounter — plus the field changes constantly, and there are many, many cases where common sense is exactly wrong.  The Teaching Company's "Law School for Everyone" courses face a similar challenge; those courses handle it by going the traditional route: we'll give you lectures on these subjects, we'll drill into as much detail and include as many citations as we can in thirty-odd hours, and hopefully you can keep up.

These "Med School for Everyone" courses go a different, more promising route.  Every lecture illustrates some general principle, like "Try to involve a patient's family in their treatment plan" — and then Dr. Benaroch talks us through "our shift in the ED" as we meet patients.  The cases then illustrate different aspects of the topic: cases where the family has to be involved in the treatment, cases that endanger the doctors themselves, cases of animal or insect bites.  Everything's presented in the second person — you're being told about the patient "you" are meeting, the vitals "you" are checking, and so on.

It's a great structure for teaching the material.  You stay engaged with the material because every case is a mystery.  You're trying to suss it out — not only what the patient's underlying problem is, but how to proceed with the investigation: which tests to run, which questions to ask, which patients to prioritize.  And it goes into just enough detail for the layperson, sketching out underlying principles, giving you some basic facts for handling emergencies, and providing a meta-understanding of how ED professionals go about providing care, regardless of what the condition is.

Generally, that last point — the 'meta understanding' — is where the course really shines.  The material about, say, "how to diagnose altitude sickness" might not stick.  But the broader picture of how doctors approach emergency care — prioritizing care, determining what to find out next, patiently narrowing down a differential to a single likely diagnosis — felt very intuitive by the end.  You won't know enough to be of any use in an ED, but you'll at least know about that process that you're unable to help with.

The narration is excellent, and the lectures are entertaining — all in all, this is a great listen.  Highly recommended.

Snow Crash by Neal Stevenson
This is the seminal 1992 cyberpunk novel by Neal Stevenson, about a pizza deliveryman who becomes the only one who can stop a disastrous worldwide conspiracy.

Reading Snow Crash for the first time in 2019 is really, really weird.  It's a message from geek culture in 1992, and you can see the whimsical optimism that eventually, technology is going to take over the world.  Even governments will be ineffectual in the face of the march of technology, and eventually, it's the hackers that will be all-powerful.

And won't that just be great?

Erm.  Yeah.  Um.  Hmm.

And you can see this book trying to be good, trying to be moral, trying contain some hacker manifesto that *we*, the programming geeks and animé aficionados, are the good guys.  But you can also see this batch of early, inchoate thoughts, like a swirling batch of ingredients, ingredients that eventually curdle into the miserable cesspit that hacker culture is today.

An example: the Maguffin at the center of Snow Crash is a language-based virus.  You hear a particular batch of text, and you're susceptible to mind control.  Yes, I'm oversimplifying — Mr. Stevenson devotes many many pages to his hero talking to (basically) an embodiment of wikipedia as they, between them, dump mounds and mounds of exposition about how it works exactly.  I patiently listened to the info-dump, a bit bored, impressed that he'd done this amount of research, and wishing he'd had editors that could have told him to dump that research in the nearest waste receptacle.

But then it dawned on me: all this stuff about using language to reprogram the brain... was NLP.  NLP, AKA neuro-linguistic programming, AKA the miserable, creepy field of study that would be pick-up artists used for twenty years, as they tried to "neg" women into sleeping with them, under the assumption that this would bring something into their lives that would break up the monotony of their seething, misogynist resentment.  This was hacker culture's bag for a long, long time.  It only eased up when most of the "incel" crowd moved on from trying to get laid and into relentless online harassment and occasional domestic terrorism.  And here it is, in print, as a bold and fresh new idea that makes for a ripping sci-fi yarn.

And you see this sort of thing in the book, over and over again: things that are novel ideas in 1992, or unexamined storytelling habits, that here in 2019 look like the first sprouts of the kudzu of the gamer-chan crowd.  There's the creepy white fetishization of Japanese culture.  There's the hypersexual treatment of teenage girls — yes, he writes a sex scene with an older dude fucking a fifteen-year-old girl in very, very graphic detail.  There's the sense that yeah, government doesn't do anything *useful*, man, so we might as well strangle it to death.  He depicts immigrants as a dirty, diseased danger to our society, and points out that vaccines might just be a big conspiracy.

All that said, it's not a bad book.  It's just a book that's writing about one future while unknowingly serving as the harbinger of a far different one.

And he was right about one thing: the hackers did take over the world.

And here we are.

Apart from that, the book meets expectations.  With genre fiction, I'm fond of asking, "if you removed all the genre elements from this, would you still have a functional story?"  Can you replace the monster with some real-world thing that people fear?  Can you set the space-combat story in a 'normal' terrestrial war?  And so on.

With Snow Crash, you absolutely cannot do that.  The story has *excellent* world-building, spinning off late-capitalism dystopia in ways that would do David Foster Wallace proud, and the novel is basically *about* that world-building.  There are characters there, and they move the plot along so that you can see more of the world-building.  The characterization has its moments, but most of it is that "spinny watch" characterization, where it tells you less about the characters and more about what the writer thinks is cool.

Mr. Stevenson also writes amazing action sequences.  He generally writes with a careful attention to detail that, while it adds a whole 'nother layer of squick to the graphic sex scene, works beautiful in chases and shootouts.

And he's at least ambitious with the knowledge he puts on display.  Again, long stretches of the book are essentially wikipedia dumps.  It's one of those things where someone is going on and on about a variety of subjects, and they (okay, nearly always "he") seem very erudite about it, and then they touch on a subject you know a few things about, and you realize, "Oh... this is totally full of shit."  And then you start suspecting that maybe the rest of the speech has been delivered with more confidence than accuracy.  Still, points for ambition.

I'm glad I read Snow Crash.  It was entertaining, and I found it fascinating in ways it never intended.

Salt Fat Acid Heat
This is Samin Nosrat's 2018 Netflix limited series about the basic elements of cooking.  It's based loosely on her book of the same name.

This show was a pleasant and harmless diversion.  The information content of the show could probably fit on two single-spaced pages of text, unlike the imposing volume it's based on, and that makes for light and undemanding fare.  At times it feels like a pretty Apple TV screensaver with a voiceover track — cinematographical technology and craft have advanced to such a point that every other mid-budget documentary feels like a goddamn Terrence Malick feature.

Each episode goes to a new location — Tuscany, Japan, Mexico, and California — and the show provides breathtaking stabilized aerial-drone shots of each.  Ms. Nosrat is a pleasant and charismatic host, demonstrating knowledge and enthusiasm, but generously giving space to the chefs and technicians that she visits.  At times it feels like an old Mr. Rogers episode where he goes to see how something is made — we see patient, expertly-shot sequences showing an old miso factory, say, or a Tuscan dairy farm.

And that's basically it.  It's kind of like the cooking-show equivalent of a lullaby: slow, calm, pleasant, undemanding.  You feel like you're learning something, and you feel like you're in good company.  And each episode ends in a perfect dinner party where the food is lovely, the people are pleasant, and the lighting is impeccable.

Wynonna Earp (season 1)
This is the 2016 supernatural western about a descendant of Wyatt Earp who has to fight demons in a small Canadian town.  (It's currently fighting to get renewed for a fourth season, and I wish it well.)

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a go at doing Buffy in 2016.

When I grow tired of angsty antiheroes, or police procedurals, or "yeah it's genre work but LOOK HOW SERIOUS WE'RE TAKING IT", by all means give me a breezy feminist genre story about a young woman who fights a grisly monster in every episode.  Yes, she's the Chosen One who has to do the fighting For Reasons, and she accrues a gang of friends to help her out, including a stodgy authority figure.

The world is never not gonna need that show.

And it's delightful to see this style of show updated to today.  I love, for instance, that Purgatory (yes, the town is called Purgatory, look ma'am you know what you signed up for when you started watching this) is a small flyover town that is 100% okay with LGBT residents, and has not an (intentional) trace of racism.  This is especially welcome because the show's demons, which must have read more like "biker gang" in 2016, read eerily like "white supremacist group" here in this darkest timeline of 2019.

And that connects, too, to the basic good nature of the show.  Yes, this is a world filled with monsters, and yes, the show loves its horror tropes and occasional crazy amounts of gore.  (Someone gets vivisected in ludicrous detail.)  But it's got this basically decent vibe at its center (again, unlike so many edgy antihero shows).  And that does a lot to earn goodwill.

The writing on the show feels very solid.  It builds a neat little episode engine: there are seventy-seven men that Wyatt Earp put to death.  They have all come back from the grave as demons.  Wynonna Earp is "The Heir", and is the only one who can kill them, using her gun called "Peacemaker".  (Yes look okay you *knew* what this show was like and I am not offering refunds.)  So great, each episode pits her against some 19ᵗʰ-century outlaw demon.  Wynonna's sister has spent her life doing convenient research on the occult, and Wynonna works with a secret government agent, and between those two secondary characters you've got all the detailed exposition, useful gewgaws, and excessive firepower the plot requires.

And the world-building is also solid.  They include a magically-ageless Doc Holliday in the show as a perhaps-untrustworthy ally, and that in turn lets them play with a Sleepy Hollow "man out of time" dynamic.  They set up a will-they-or-won't-they triangle between Wynonna and the agent, and Wynonna and Doc.  They give us a Big Bad demon outlaw named Bobo, and a mysterious even-bigger bad named Constance, and patiently reveal the schemes that the villains have in motion.  They give the agent a vague, dark secret.  And so on.  It's all the tools you've seen before, ably deployed and well-constructed.

And the production itself is solid.  They clearly have a budget of, well, what you'd expect for a basic-cable supernatural adventure show on Syfy, but they make it work, leaning on the natural spectacle of Alberta and frequently indicating magic by tinting people's eyes bright, glowy colors in post-production.  Crowd scenes are rare, and CGI is only used when absolutely necessary.

Honestly, I feel kind of bad that I wasn't blown away with this show.  It's fun, it's reliable, and it's pleasant escapism from the trash fire of the outside world.  It doesn't surprise me that it has a devoted fanbase (there are cons) and it doesn't surprise me that it's reputed to be one of the healthiest, least-toxic fandoms out there.  It's a good show for good people.

I guess if I want to chase down where it falls short, I can look back at Buffy.  Everyone at Mutant Enemy was fond of breaking down a show with "what is this episode about?" and "what is this episode *really* about?"  And they would make absolutely sure that the supernatural problem they took care of in Sunnyvale corresponded clearly and powerfully to some adolescent problem that people dealt with in real life.  Sometimes it was clumsy (hel-lo, swim team), but it was always there, and so it always had more weight than just a funny romp about vampires.

With Wynonna Earp, I often didn't see the connections — it was about fighting a monster, and, no, it was really just about fighting a monster.  Sometimes I could see where they were going — one of the last sequences, for example, ably evokes how Wynonna has felt persecuted and excluded by her whole hometown, even when they grudgingly get along with her — but I couldn't really *feel* it.  So in the end, it was just a good diversion to get lost in for a while.

I'm sure I'll get around to the later seasons someday, but for now I'll move on to other shows, still happy that Wynonna Earp exists.

Anastasia (touring musical)
This is stage adaptation of the 1997 animated musical.[2]

I understand how this got made.  Disney is generating Brinks-truck-fuls of cash by dusting off their classic animated musicals and putting them on stage.  Of *course* Don Bluth's knock-off Disney-Renaissance flick is going to sidle up to the same trough.  Of *course* it'll have massive production values and a top-notch creative team.  The elevator pitch — "it's that classic 90s animated musical onstage" — is alone enough to morph a producer's eyes into dollar signs.

And yet, this is such a staggeringly unnecessary adaptation.  Anastasia-the-movie is fine.  I saw it in the theaters, I said afterwards that "Disney had better watch its back!", and I look back benignly on young!Peter's cheery ignorance.  It has one or two good songs.  It has good animation and a surprisingly solid speaking cast.  The story works out okay.  And so, it's kind of everybody's 5ᵗʰ- or 6ᵗʰ-favorite animated musical.  It happened, it was fine, it has sentimental value for some folks, but generally we never needed to see it or speak of it again.

But they made the musical anyway, and it ran on Broadway after a very brief "iron out the kinks" set of previews in Hartford — we're not making art, here, we're making money, folks — and now there's a touring show.  Lindsey and I checked it out at Bass Concert Hall on Valentine's Day.

I came away from the production thinking two things:
1. You could make a good, and even necessary, stage adaptation of Anastasia.
2. This production whiffed badly on that task.

And that second point is actually kind of weird.

First, because this production was top-notch.  This may have been the best musical-theater acting I've seen that wasn't Hamilton.  And this may have been the best theater tech I've seen that wasn't the West End performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  The problem is that they made some seriously baffling choices in adapting the adequate journeyman 1997 musical to the stage, and wound up with, to my mind, a script impervious to good performance.

And that, too, is just... weird.  (I need a thesaurus.)  They got Terrence McNally, who has won multiple Tony Awards, to write their book.  And yet I'm seeing just some amateur-hour mistakes in this storytelling.  I have to conclude that this got noted to death by the corporate engine trying to safely bring their product to Broadway.

So what went wrong?

Let's look back at the original movie.  There is actually a strong story there.  It's Russia, right after the revolution.  The tzar and his family are dead.  But one daughter, Anastasia, might have survived.  A pair of con men train a peasant girl, Anya, to pretend to be Anastasia to get an inheritance.  Hijinks ensue.  Eventually it becomes clear that Anya really *is* Anastasia.  She decides not to live the glamorous heiress lifestyle, and instead stride off into the sunset with Dmitry, the con man that she's fallen in love with.

And the thing is, there's a really strong story in there if you frame it in terms of Anya's relationship with her past.[3]  Anya starts out with amnesia about her early childhood, but she's determined to figure out where she's from — she thinks that, without that information, she'll never know who she really *is*.  This leads to adventures, and in those *adventures*, she learns more about herself.  And then when she finally solves the mystery — she's a lost Romanov! — she realizes that it was never really *about* that.  Where she's from doesn't determine who she is.  And she *knows* who she is — knows it so well, in fact, that she can turn her back on her original goal and go live happily ever after with Dmitry.

That's a good structure.  That's a good thing for a story to be about.  If it were a house, we'd say it has 'strong bones'.  And it makes sense, since the film is itself an adaptation of a 1955 play that was, itself, adapted into a fairly successful film by Anatole Litvak.

That theme — let's reduce it to "can you grow beyond your past?" — is easy to reflect in other characters.  For the younger con man, Dmitry, it can become "can I continue being a con man?", as he shows more and more virtue and self-sacrifice.  For the older fellow, Vlad, a former nobleman, you could spin it as "I really am a relic of this former society — how can I make that work with the world I'm in now?"[4]  And you especially reflect your theme in the villain: in this case, it's Rasputin, who had this fine position in the tzarist court, got rejected from that, and couldn't ever let that go.  He devoted everything, and eventually died, just desperately trying to get revenge over *losing* his past.

And the nice thing with reflecting the theme in the villain is that defeating the villain can *teach* the hero something useful about their own situation.  In this case, Anya can see what this obsession has turned Rasputin into, and she can realize that maybe that's not the best life choice for her.

So.  That's where we're starting out.  It's auspicious.

One thing to notice about this story is that it dissolves if you put it in contact with actual history.  To put it another way: the historical context of this story is that a rotting, useless aristocracy got murdered wholesale and replaced with a genocidal dystopia, with the common people getting crushed underfoot both before and after.  Let's be clear on this: if there's that much murder going on, you can't just talk about it a little bit.  You're either telling a story about these horrible events, or you're telling a story that's strongly engaging with them, or you're telling a story that's deliberately ignoring it.

I would argue, if you're telling a story that's basically a Disney-princess musical, "hard pass on genocide" is your only real option.  You should tell the story with as little "here's what history was *really* like" as possible.  I get that this choice is in questionable taste, and is maybe a sign that the story shouldn't be told at all.  But I just don't see how you tell this small, happy story of self-discovery while engaging with pogroms and starvation and show trials.

And this may be where the whole project foundered.  The creative team probably rebelled against the notion of kind of 'sealing off' this story from the rise of communism, and then introduced elements of reality into their fairy-tale story, and then the whole story started falling to pieces.  It stopped being about "Anya discovers her past", because how could it be, in the face of everything else?, and it was left as a vague story about nothing-in-particular.

For example: in the animated film, the villain is Rasputin.  Furthermore, in the film, Rasputin is an evil wizard.  Not like, "he's rumored to be a creepy weird dude" — he straight-up *can do real magic that will fuck you up*.  And as I mentioned earlier, there is no nuance to his mission: he got thrown out by the Romanovs, and he wants them dead.  All of them.  And their little girl, too.

And that works really well in the story.  Like I said before, the villain reflects the story's theme, providing a sort of dark mirror to the hero's arc.  And the villain doesn't steal focus — we're not focusing on Rasputin's internal angst or whatever, we can have him stay menacing, only draw attention when we need him to, and then get him out of the way.  He can be very useful to our story structurally — he's basically omnipotent with his magic, so he can provide whatever kind of adversity the story needs, and we can likewise *invent* whatever's required to 'beat' him at any particular scheme.  He's useful, he keeps the main story exciting, and he keeps focus on Anya and Dmitry, who (being somewhat bland) need all the help they can get in that department.

But that is way, way too whimsical if you want to engage seriously and respectfully with this period of history.

So, the stage play drops Rasputin.  They drop his talking-bat sidekick.  They drop his excellent villain song.

They introduce "Gleb", a communist military leader intent on stopping Anya.  He has many sensible criticisms of the Romanovs.  And he has deep internal conflict, not realizing that half the reason he's trying to track down Anya is that he's in love with her.

On paper, this is how you fix up Anastasia for a stage production — you drop the most ludicrous, fantastical elements so that you can respectfully handle history.  Hooray, no grown-ups will feel awkward and nonplussed by your show.

But the damage to the story is immediate and perhaps irrevocable.  You lose the convenience of "our villain can do literally whatever we need, to move the story along".  You have a villain whose nuance and conflict draws audience focus, which is (again) a problem when Anya and Dmitry are bland.  You engage the horrors of this phase of history beyond what the show can sustain.  And worst of all, you lose this unity of theme.  When the bad guy is no longer motivated by "holding on to the past", is your story really *about* that any more?

The more deeply worrying question: is your story really *about* anything?

I feel like Rasputin's removal really collapsed the whole jenga tower right there, but there were other questionable changes that made things even worse.

For instance: they scrambled the song order.  The animated film had six songs.  The stage musical adds sixteen more, and puts the originals in a different order.  If you know musical theater, you know that scrambling the song order before staging a musical makes about as much sense as scrambling the pages of an Ikea manual before you build an dining table: you don't get a dining table, and you don't get a musical.  The most baffling move: this staging takes the original's "I want" song (i.e., the song where the heroine sings her objective) from the start of the story to the end of act one.

Anya's initial number is instead "In My Dreams", which... could be interpreted as an "I want" song? if you squint?

So now the damage is real, real bad.  We have a protag with no clear objective for most of the show.  And whatever objective she *does* have is no longer connected to that theme of "can you grow beyond your past?"  So we don't have an objective *and* we don't have a theme.

And with that, I would argue that we don't really have a *musical* any more.  Yes, we have a series of scenes in which people sing.  But the superstructure just isn't there — the scenes don't add up to anything.

I'll say again: the performances and the music and the tech for this production were all amazing.  And that meant, moment-to-moment, scene to scene, the production worked.  Within a scene, the performers were charismatic, the singing was excellent and expressive, the tech worked perfectly.  But scene to scene, I kept thinking of the John Mullaney line "This *might as well* happen."  There was an act-two stretch set in a Parisian nightclub that was just structurally baffling — does this do anything for the story?  Can't this whole thing be cut?  Is this supposed to be like one of those old Verdi operas where audiences kinda tuned in and out as they saw fit?

But you start pulling on that string, and the whole thing unravels — once you've lost your objective and your theme the whole thing starts falling apart.  They at least have a plot, with a central question — "will Anya become a princess?" — but even that gets shunted to the background for various scenes.

And I haven't yet mentioned the kicker: this is a 2½-hour-long musical.  They adapted a 94-minute movie into a 2½-hour-long musical, and they somehow fumbled the story structure.  Actually, fumbling the story structure might have *led* to the story bloat — if you don't know what your show is about, you can include anything and everything!

And let's be clear: I can watch a 25-minute show where the structure is a complete omnishambles.  I can even watch an hourlong show with a fumbled structure, if the performances are engaging enough.  But you go beyond the two-hour point, and your story structure has to be on point, or my mind wanders off to grocery lists and blogposts and never comes back.

So: it was a bad adaptation.  It was an unnecessary adaptation.  But there was a strong story there to work with, and if they had accepted its fairy-tale quality, and made it more personal than historical, they could have really had something.

For next week: I'm watching season one of The Leftovers (I swear I will finish that one day) and season two The Dragon Prince.  I'm reading Five Came Back, about the notable directors that went to Europe to cover WWII, and Gardening for Dummies.

[1] Though you have to figure at least some neckbeard readers will take it that way.
[2] It's weird that I feel compelled to write about it, as none of you are likely assessing whether to see it or not, but well, when has that stopped me before?
[3] Kudos to Lindsey for this take on the material.
[4] I feel like every person of a certain age feels this way, like an immigrant from decades ago who can never quite fit in.
Tags: media update, weekly
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