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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Monday (3/19/12) 10:37pm - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

Movies:  <none>
TV:  Angel [various] [spoilers], Doctor Who [6x01-6x06] [spoilers]
Books:  <none>

Angel [various]
I continued watching a smattering of recommended Angel episodes, to help get a handle on how to play Wesley.  Eh, let's just list all of 'em off:  "Reprise", "Billy", "Loyalty", "Sleep Tight", "Spin the Bottle", "Soulless", "Home", "Lineage", and "Not Fade Away".

One perhaps-obvious effect of watching this random smattering of episodes was that I cared very little about the supernatural "big bads" of the show.  The ultimate evils that they're going after start to feel a bit like the shadowy organizations in Burn Notice, where there seems to be one behind another behind another, all of them kind of interchangeable.  Ah.  *This* particular batch is described as "even more powerful" than the last one, and their SFX makeup is slightly different.  Got it.

And again, I didn't really care as much about the show's use of the supernatural for life metahpors.  It still felt weaker than the much more powerful (and, okay, perhaps more on-the-nose) high-school metaphors employed in Buffy.  My response was pretty much, "Okay, they're fighting a So-and-so Demon, which can only combatted with a Magical Whatsit.  Got it."

That said, the show more than made up for these deficiencies by being just a hell of a workplace drama.  In that regard, it came a long, long way from its Doyle-Cordy-and-Angel roots, expanding out its central cast, giving every character a unique attitude towards every other one, with all of them accruing history together over time.  So, while I didn't care about show- or episode-mythologies, I cared quite a bit about how these characters would treat each other.

The real standout, to me, from this batch, was "Billy", about a twisted man capable of making the men around him violent towards women.  So, yeah, what I was saying about the supernatural elements in Angel lacking real thematic resonance?  That claim doesn't apply here.  You watch all the violence in "Billy" with the queasy knowledge that it all has real-life examples.  And it ends with the sort of uneasiness and guilt that I suppose every man feels, as you wonder how much of this violent misogyny is a part of *you*.

I think the scene where an infected Wesley slowly turns on Fred is the most uncomfortable scene I've watched in the whole show.  Then it leads straight into a mind-bending fight scene:  Gunn is helping defend Fred; then he realizes he's been infected; then he has to try to save Fred from himself while he's starting to turn against her.  And then Fred wants to take out both Gunn and Wesley without killing them.  It's the sort of "our heroes have to strategize around a brain-breaky piece of phlebotinum" plot that Stephen Moffat would love.

There were other high points.  Wesley's handling of the hostage situation at the end of "Home" was shocking but, I suppose, inevitable.  "Spin the Bottle" included a gorgeous commercial-break callout from Lorne.  ("Well, those were some exciting products.  Am I right?  Mmm.  Let's all think about buying some of those.")[1]  Seeing Angel as a proud dad is hilarious, and I loved the surprise of seeing how Spike spends his "last day".

Low points included any historical Angelus flashback.

As for what I've drawn about how to play Wesley, I don't know if I got much that I can verbalize.  I'm kind of trusting that seeing the character go through lots of stuff will give me an instinct for it.  Mostly I'm seeing just how conflicted his attitudes towards all the characters are.  He respects Gunn, but he's also had about a zillion little skirmishes with him.  He loves Fred, but deep down he's pretty messed up w/r/t her sexuality (if "Billy" is to be believed).  He trusts Angel absolutely, except for the all the times Angel did something dunderheaded, and Wes had to end-run around him.

I don't know how much of this is actually playable -- or for that matter, how much of it is playable in "Smile Time" -- but I'll give it my best shot.

Doctor Who [6x01-6x08]
This is the second season with showrunner Stephen Moffat and star Matt Smith.

So far, I have two gut responses to season six; one good, one bad.  First, I'm in awe of how cleverly this season is put together.  This is obviously the work of the man who pieced together "Blink", with River Song's backstory neatly falling into place, albeit in jumbly order.  Most of all, you can sense the glee of a man with the twin toys of 'regeneration' and 'time travel' at his disposal.  I can only guess he sketched out a massive amount of material ahead of time, so that he could set up *so* many odd, incomprehensible bits that paid off in later episodes.[2]

So my hat is off to them with what they've pulled off here.

On the other hand, all of this Swiss-watch elegance has made season six feel sort of bloodless and calculated to me.  Many of the story's reveals make me think, "Ah, that's clever" (even though I already knew the big secret about River's origin), but I don't have a strong *emotional* reaction to them.  This is odd, since we spend most of the season unravelling how the Silence is threatening Amy's baby.  I should care about a baby, right?

Well, maybe not, as the baby gets dropped into the story kind of out of nowhere, after which its only real purpose is to be this threatened and endangered thing.  So perhaps, in my brain, baby Melody Pond feels a bit more like a plot football, and a bit less like someone who draws in my empathy and engagement.

That said, individual episodes are still exciting, and I'm sure I'll love whatever twists and turns remain in The Backstory of River Song.

And there are certainly high points along the way.  I actually liked their visit to the States (a lot of critics found it gimmicky), if only because it let them shoot in Monument Valley, and it let them give 1960's America the sort of treatment that it's given other historical periods -- kind of cheesy, but genuinely revelling in setting a story in that time/place.  And the horrible creatures that you immediately forget struck me as another brilliant little monster idea from Moffat, proving (if proof were needed) that the quantum-locked Angels from "Blink" were no fluke.

The Gangers from "The Rebel Flesh" and "The Almost People" were a bit less interesting -- simulants are an overused sci-fi trope, and their villainy was a bit one-note (or maybe Ron Moore has just closed the book on "conflicted human simulants" for now) -- but again, there were clever plot mechanics to deal with "okay, who's real, and how can we be sure of that?"

As with everything from Neil Gaiman, I wanted to like "The Doctor's Wife", but I mostly wrinkled my nose at it.  I hate any time a 'crazy' character talks in what sounds like bad teenage free-verse, and the "House arbitrarily makes Rory and Amy run around the TARDIS" subplot felt... well, arbitrary.  Oh, and apparently we can just jump between universes as will, though the show previously made a big deal of how impossible that is.  That said, the notion that the TARDIS chose the Doctor and brings him not where he wanted to go, "but where he needed to be" (great Douglas Adams nod, that) is a beautiful one.

And lastly, "The Curse of the Black Spot" looked like another of those "classic creature" episodes.  They pick a classic supernatural creature -- in this case, a siren.  Our heroes spend the whole episode getting terrorized by said siren.  Finally, they discover that no, the siren really wasn't supernatural, but was Mr. Barnaby, who ran the abandoned amusement park down the str-- sorry.  Lemme try again.  They discover that the siren really wasn't supernatural, but was in fact the result of something scientific.  The irony here is that the "scientific" explanation is really just screenwriter technobabble that's indistinguishable from magic.  But, it's exciting enough, and hey, we get Lily Cole as the siren.

I look forward to the rest of the season.  I doubt it'll have anything that emotionally affecting, but it should be silly, clever, and fun.

For next time:  I'll finish off season six of Doctor Who, and then probably kill some time with Archer.

[1] From wikipedia:  "This episode took much longer to film due to the cast finding it difficult to stop laughing.  Amy Acker and Andy Hallett ruined dozens of takes by giggling, and Alexis Denisof and David Boreanaz prolonged shooting for an hour and a half when they couldn't stop laughing."

[2] Though David X. Cohen still rules the roost of "patient inter-episode payoffs", what with his "shadow of Nibbler" bit from Futurama.

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