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

Wednesday (12/17/14) 10:05pm - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

Books:  At the Mountains of Madness [audiobook], Discover Meteor
Movies:  The Lion King [film]
TV:  Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex [season 1]
Other:  The Lion King [musical, San Antonio, 12/11/14]

At the Mountains of Madness [audiobook]
This is the H. P. Lovecraft novella about a disastrous Antarctic expedition that uncovers evidence of ancient aliens.  Somehow, I hadn't read this magnum opus yet, in spite of being part of the cast of The Black Vault.  I finally listened to it this week as preparation for the upcoming recording of Tales from the Black Vault.

This is a really, really good book.  It's H. P. Lovecraft at the height of his considerable powers, and you can see its obvious influence in everything from Prometheus to The Thing.

It's an exquisite example of Lovecraft's patient, masterful pacing.  The narrator tells us from the top that something horrible has happened on the Antarctic expedition, and between that dire pronouncement and the novelty and wonder of exploring the last unknown frontier, Lovecraft knows he has us hooked.  By my reckoning, in the first quarter of the novella, nothing "weird" happens.  It's just straight-up details about how a normal expedition to the Antarctic would go.

This is perfect.  It absolutely plants you in this strange, frozen desert.  It sells the verisimilitude of the story with this pile of ordinary, everyday details.  It lets you get to know the central character without any distractions from the supernatural.  You're right there with them, trudging along through the frozen wastes, annoyed that the preliminary borings haven't revealed any exciting geology, making sure the dogs are happy and the plane is in good working order.

And then, right at the point where that peaceful, slice-of-life reportage might get a little tedious, he subtly shift gears.  Much has been written about how slowly Lovecraft reveals his horrors.  Lovecraft is not an "OMG A THING JUMPS OUT OF THE SHADOWS" writer.  No, with Lovecraft, there's a very clear sense of *distance* between the protagonist and the horror.  The two start very far apart -- the protagonist hears some thirdhand tale about the horrible monster, from some drunken, unreliable narrator.  Then he (it's always a 'he', regrettably) sees some evidence that the creature might have been around.  Then he hears the creature.  Then, only at the very end, after Lovecraft has gleefully ratcheted up the tension, does he finally *see* the horror with his own eyes.

And so it is with At the Mountains of Madness.  The expedition is going fine, and then there are some odd geological discoveries.  And then there are some odd cave formations.  And then they spot some odd things *in* the cave.  And then they find the millions-of-years-old remains of the Old Ones.  And then the party that had been dissecting one of the corpses gets destroyed.

And here's a good time to point out another thing Lovecraft does beautifully: his characters make the choices that will push the horror story forward, but they don't seem like blundering idiots.  I think we've all watched horror movies where we the intrepid heroes wander *into* the big scary house, *ignore* the screams of the damned within, and decide it's just *peachy* to split up.  You just shake your head and you wait for the morons to become blood sacrifices to Saint Darwin.

And yet, if you eschew that kind of character-dumbness, and write relatable characters doing intelligent things, you usually don't get a horror movie.  You wind up with risk-averse characters who have, at best, mildly inconvenient days, as they mostly sit at home and read.

The best writers manage to create characters who do sensible things and still walk right into horrific circumstances.[1]  And that's the case here.  They find the ancient remains of the Old Ones, but they have *no possible reason* to believe a millions-of-years-old corpse will revive and kill everyone.  And at the same time, the prospect of exploring a vast ancient city unknown to modern science is incredibly tempting.  Lovecraft has made the monsters so far outside everyday understanding, and the sights of the Antarctic city so enticing, that we *get* it.  We get why Professor Dyer and his crew make decisions that wind up being stupid.  Sure, we also understand why he looks back on his own choices with regret and even bewilderment, but you never think along the lines of, "Why doesn't the family just move out of the haunted house?"

Again, it's that pacing that Lovecraft deploys -- it's a sense of mounting dread.  By the time Dyer realizes how old, how powerful, and how dangerous the Old Ones are, it's almost as easy to complete the expedition as to turn back.  And beyond a certain point, it becomes clear that what they've uncovered is as much a danger to the whole world as it is to them personally, so it behooves them to gather more information before they escape.

I could raise some objections, but they just feel churlish.  No, Lovecraft doesn't really give us indelible secondary characters.  And yes, when it got really, really deep into 'history lessons about the Old Ones', I did get a little sleepy.  All in all, though, this is the best example of the cosmic horror genre that I've ever read -- possibly the best that exists -- and it's well worth everybody's time and attention.

(Oh, and this was a very well-delivered audiobook -- though the actor was part of the cast of Gilmore Girls, leading to strange crossover fics writing themselves in my head.)

Discover Meteor
This is an instructional book about meteor.js, a new and promising framework for building apps in JavaScript.

I was underwhelmed by this book.  It walks you through creating a simple reddit-esque site from scratch, providing explanatory notes along the way for how the code you're adding draws on useful features in the framework.  But in the process it kind of falls between two stools -- it's not quick-and-simple enough to be a basic primer on the framework, and it doesn't linger on any one topic enough to make me feel like I understood it.  More specifically, the book never seems to "zoom out" from the sample program enough to make me feel like I comprehended the overall topics they were touching on, like publishing data collections, performing animations, or working with Spacebars.  By the end of it, I felt like I understood their sample program pretty well, but hadn't learned much about meteor overall.

Ah well.  I suppose it would behoove me to avoid meteor books for a while until the framework matures a bit more.

The Lion King (film)
This is, of course, the 1994 Disney animated musical about a lion on the African savannah.  In my estimation, it's the last great film from the Disney Renaissance, with Pocahontas showing a sharp decline in quality the following year.  I re-watched this as preparation for seeing the stage-musical adaptation in San Antonio. 

The Lion King held up a lot better than I thought it would.  It's very likely this was the first time I'd seen the movie all the way through since I saw it in the theater twenty years ago.  I remember at the time thinking that the story was an utter shambles.

Now I'm a little more forgiving.

Let's start with what's good: the animation is quite simply the best work modern-day Disney has ever done.  Compared to The Lion King, Alladin looks like a Saturday-morning cartoon, The Little Mermaid looks like a clumsy first attempt, and even Tangled and Frozen look a bit dead and mannered.  The opening sequence is breathtakingly beautiful, the character designs are sharp and distinct, and they manage to turn the relative lack of anthropomorphization to their advantage.  The cats act catlike, but those behaviors are wonderfully expressive -- young Simba playfully pounce-attacks Mufasa's ear, and we just *get* it.  And they use CGI in a tasteful way that complements the cel animation.  Yes, everybody talks about the wildebeest stampede, which is amazing, but also look at the swooping tracking shots around Pride Rock, tricky twists of perspective that are nigh-impossible to draw without computational help.

Ah, I could just go on and on about how good this film looks.  It deserves all of its wide acclaim.

This was also the first time that Disney tried to cast a whole gaggle of famous "name actors" in a film.[2]  I kind of hate that this happened, as it set a godawful precedent.  Nowadays, it seems like every damn animated movie is casting not for the film, but for the film's promotional tour.  I mean, they cast Demi Moore as the female lead in Hunchback.  What on god's green earth is distinctive or expressive or nuanced about the voice of Demi Moore?  They knew there were actual *voice* actors they could hire, right?  Goddammit.

Okay, sorry.  Got distracted.  Back to The Lion King.  So: this was the first time Disney cast a bunch of big-name actors almost across the board.  And, to my mind, this is the *only* time it's worked out well.  Frankly, the only bland voicing is for Simba, which is fairly forgivable for a blandly-written character.  The rest of the cast brings a rich diversity of voices, from the musical-theater razzmatazz of Nathan Lane to the playful, contemplative authority of Robert Guillaume to James Earl Jones, whom no adjectives can do justice.  Every character's voice is unique and expressive.  Even Whoopi Goldberg fits perfectly into the ensemble.[3]

But still, the story doesn't quite hold up.

Let me sidebar a bit, and talk about George R. R. Martin.  He's fond of saying that there are two types of storytellers: there are the engineers, who draw up strict blueprints of their stories; and there are the gardeners, who just plant a bunch of characters and situations and see what grows.  Either type of storyteller can create a great story.  And a great story doesn't easily betray how it was constructed: it simply *is*, and seems like it wasn't written, but discovered.  But a lousy story will tell you what kind of storyteller made it.  The gardeners will create pointless, lava-lamp sorts of stories, where a bunch of random, credible stuff happens, but you never wonder what will happen next, and it never really adds up to anything.  The engineers will create stories that build tension, and that have clear and definitive endings, but at the cost of believable characters or simple, straightforward plots.

The Lion King was engineered nearly to death.  I say this both because of the film's troubled production history -- passing through multiple directors and a dozen or so writers over six years of development, and no doubt receiving an endless hail of studio notes -- and because of the final product.  The Lion King is a story where the writers are trying really, really, *really* hard to check off every item in the "Joseph Campbell hero's journey" checklist.  And this relentless engineering leads to engineering-y sorts of problems.

For instance, consider the massive plot fiddliness of the wildebeest stampede.  This is a common problem with "engineer stories", where instead of going where the story naturally leads next, you have to force it from a predetermined A to B to C.  In this case, we need to get from the opening status quo to "Mufasa is dead and Simba leaves the Pride Lands, refusing to return" (since we have to have the "hero refuses the call" plot beat, you see).  So, to do that, we have Scar inciting a stampede (okay) while knowing he'll have enough time to get Mufasa over there before Simba dies (um) and then manages to kill Mufasa out of sight of Simba (useful coincidence) and then refuses to kill Simba personally (why?) and instead tells Simba that Mufasa's death was his (Simba's) fault (for no apparent reason), and then sends the hyenas to kill Simba (ok), but Simba escapes through some brambles (that's very convenient for Simba) and the hyneas refuse to let Scar know that the murder wasn't carried out (that's very convenient for the plot), and finally Simba escapes to the desert, convinced that he was responsible for Mufasa's death.

Whew.  That was a lot of heavy lifting.  They *almost* got that juncture welded together properly.  Now we have Simba leaving his native world, and Scar has no reason to hunt him down, and Simba has no reason to return.  First: consider what a Rube Goldberg they had to set up to make that happen.  That isn't just an easy, "the story going where it wants to" move.  That is a *lot* of moving parts, a lot of helpful coincidences, and a lot of character motivations that don't quite add up.

And the one that, for me, adds up the *least* is Simba's lifelong conviction that he was responsible for Mufasa's death.  I see why they need that for plot purposes -- otherwise, Simba just comes right back home, takes the throne, and we have a half-hour movie -- but it just doesn't follow round-earth logic.  I would wind up feeling like Simba is kind of an idiot -- for not realizing the truth, for never discussing the situation, for never thinking it through -- but it's worse than that.  It makes me feel like Simba is just a plot construction, doing whatever action will move the movie along to its preordained destination.

It would have been much better if there were something *about* Simba's character that made him seem predisposed to feel guilty about Mufasa's death.  In that case, it would have made Scar seem like a smarter, more formidable adversary, taking advantage of Simba's weakness on the spur of the moment.  And it would have made the plot feel much more natural.  Even if the wildebeest stampede had still involved some helpful coincidences, we'd feel like that *character* would have eventually encountered that *plot development*.

See, plot and character are like electricity and magnetism: two things that are thoroughly intertwined, and ultimately two representations of something deeper, some core concept we can't intuitively understand.  Character *is* action -- we learn who people are by what they do, and in film, what they do has to be something we can see and/or hear.  Likewise, plot should feel like an expression, a kind of outflow, of character.  Hamlet (a frequent and, I think, misguided point of comparison for this film) features an indecisive protagonist, and the plot (among many things) shows us the terrible consequences of indecision.  When you're talking about plot and character, you want "because" or "therefore": "Alladin wants to impress Jasmine as somebody he's not, therefore the plot hinges on his learning to be himself."  What you don't want is "and": "Simba is a good kid, and he decides he was responsible for Mufasa's death."

Basically, if you've hit the absolute crux of your storyline, and you're not saying "Well, of *course* Simba would do that," you have got problems.

And it leads to a sort of "Idiot Plot", where the story only happens because Simba is too idiotic to ever realize he didn't kill anybody.  This is a common thing with engineered stories, where a character refuses to say something for long stretches, presumably because they're an idiot, just so that the plot train can reach its next stations.

This sort of desperate, cobbled-together monomyth-ing also gives the movie a strongly episodic feel.  Yes, most films have a three-act structure, but with The Lion King, it's more like a three-episode anthology: there's a warm family coming-of-age drama about young Simba growing up in the Pride Lands; there's a zany Broadway musical about animals having fun in the jungle; and then there's a big action movie where Simba returns, Scouring-of-the-Shire-style.  Each "episode" works nicely on its own, but the forced overall plot doesn't strongly tie them together.  They don't feel like part of the same story.

And then finally, Scar finally admits to the pride that he killed Mufasa, for no apparent reason, apart from "they had to get to the end".  Jeremy Irons sells it as best as he can.

Still, it didn't bug me as much now as it did back in 1994.  Perhaps I'm more forgiving now.  And I suppose in 1994 I compared The Lion King to the unequaled Little Mermaid/Beauty and the Beast/Alladin trifecta -- now I'm comparing it to subsequent fare like Pocahanatas or Hercules.  And maybe now I'm better at sorting out, "Okay, this story doesn't quite work, and here's what went wrong."  Once I know *what* is bugging me, it's much easier for me to set it aside and focus instead on what I like.

On the other hand, the songs bugged me more this time.  This is the first modern-Disney movie without Howard Ashman, and my god, is his voice missed.  We will not see his like again.  Now, let me be clear: I love that they are using traditional African music as the backbone of the songs and (especially) the score.  The opening "Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba" of "Circle of Life" is the most arresting moment of *any* Disney musical.

I'm not so sold on Elton John.  And I say this as a guy who likes a lot of Elton John music -- I would put "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" or "Tiny Dancer" up against any singer-songwriter fare from the 1970s.

It's bizarre to me -- so many western singer-songwriters of his generation became obsessed with world music in the 80s, and made songs that fit their songcraft to the ancient traditions of other cultures.  So this is how you get tunes like "The Obvious Child"[4] from Paul Simon or "Shaking the Tree" from Peter Gabriel.  And meanwhile, Elton John was making... "I'm Still Standing".  Uh... *this* is the guy you're getting to write songs for your movie set in Africa?

Wait, it's even funnier: Elton John only took this job after ABBA turned down the gig.  I am not lying.  This is a thing that happened.

I know I'm being breezy and glib here, but I'm also pointing out a problem in the songs.

Apart from "Hakuna Matata", which is a wonderful full-on jazz-hands-worthy American musical-theater number, and "Be Prepared", which is... um, also a song, each song contains an awkward mismatch.  The African-esque accompaniments and the Elton-John-esque lead melodies are puzzle pieces that just don't belong together.  Whereas the songwriters I mentioned earlier create an almost call-and-response-style give-and-take between melodic lead and world-beat accompaniment (seriously -- go listen to "The Obvious Child"), Sir Elton doesn't particularly like rests, writing long, legato vocal lines that don't let the accompaniment peek through, or play to its percussive, syncopated polyrhythms.  If the blistering Zulu vocal that opens the film is one of its best moments, the first English vocals are a bit of a letdown, taking you from a timeless universe to a bland, mid-90s pop song.  It's like you've been eating a steak, and suddenly your steak has frosting on it.

So which side wins?  Pro or con?  In the end, the bad parts are hardly deal-breakers.  Sure, the plot is a bit wheezy and awkward, but it gets you from one end of the story to another without any intolerable plot holes.  Yes, Elton John's best songwriting years were well behind him, but there are memorable tunes.  And this means that the amazing strengths of the film can carry the day.  Again, the animation and voice acting are simply to die for.  Disney would never get that good again.

Hell, *nobody* would.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex [season 1]
This is the animé series about a cybernetic law-enforcement team in Japan in the year 2030.  Its crime stories explore questions of identity in a world where sentient AIs and cybernetic enhancements are commonplace.

Since around 2000 or so, every drama has had to square the circle of being both episodic (each story is self contained) and serialized (each story is a piece of a larger arc).  Ghost in the Shell goes the X-Files route, alternating self-contained stories and arc stories, going so far as to specify them as "stand-alone" or "complex" at the beginning of each episode.

I liked the stand-alone episodes better than the arc stories.  This surprised me considerably -- usually I far prefer the larger canvas of serialized storytelling to the little vignettes of self-contained episodes.  But science fiction often benefits from this short-story-like format: you introduce a novel, "sci-fi" idea, you explore its practical consequences, its philosophical implications, and the questions it raises about humanity, and you tie it up by the end of the story.  Then, anthology-style, you move on to the next idea and the next episode.

This sort of format worked to spectacular effect in the original Twilight Zone and Star Trek series, and it works wonderfully here.  Ghost in the Shell episodes have the same sort of shape -- they encounter something mysterious, investigat it, muse about it, uncover the truth behind it, and think about what it all means -- only it's applied to a near-future of bionic brains and playful robots.  They explore really interesting ideas, which usually feed into melancholy stories where humanity can't quite adjust to its bizarre new technologies.

The "complex" episodes, I had more trouble with.  Specifically, it felt like they had a very twisty plot with a lot of big ideas and themes, but they didn't have the storytelling chops to translate that into *showing* the plot rather than *telling* it.  Consider The Wire and its famous "fuck" scene, where two detectives examine a crime scene and carefully work through clues, reconstructing a very complicated shooting... and the sole dialog is variations on the word "fuck".  You have a very complex story beat going on, but you're just getting it across via action, shot selection, and emotions.  Animé often goes way in the other direction, where you have a complex story going on, and you express it via lots of stationary talking heads delivering endless expository speeches.  It makes the story hard to follow -- you know you've had all the relevant information info-dumped to you, but since it comprised so many lectures and so little storytelling, none of it was easy to retain.

Typically, this exposition-heavy habit gets most pronounced as the story reaches the end.[5]  Now, not only are they exposition-ing everything that's going on, they're adding *retroactive* exposition to explain the deep secrets behind everything that has happened so far.  And usually, they're also adding massive thematic exposition, to explain why these story points are important.  This was my experience with, say, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and it was my experience with Ghost in the Shell too.  I quickly got lost in the conspiracy that the arc explores (something to do with pharmaceuticals, a brain-killing disease, and a massive cover-up), partly because of exposition overkill and partly because I'm not culturally aware of, say, Japanese government divisions.  And then towards the end, the whole thing resolves in long, long speeches about big, big ideas.

And then somehow the show resets itself for a second season -- with ultra-hasty explanations as to why everybody turned out okay and why they're reforming their crime-fighting unit -- leading to strong feelings of "Wait, what?"

In spite of those complaints, it's far from a bad show in the arc episodes -- it still has sharp characters, fascinating world-building, and a lovely (and tragic) story arc about the squad's adorable sentient tanks.  And the animation is always phenomenal.  It's amusing to me, how I only end up watching the crème de la crème of animé TV shows, so I just take it for granted, now, that Japanese animation is always going to be amazing.  Yoko Kanno delivers another stunning soundtrack.  Even the little "Tachikoma Time" lagniappes at the end of each episode are adorably bizarre.

It was a good season of television.

The Lion King [musical, San Antonio, 12/11/14]
This is the renowned 1997 Julie Taymor stage adapatation of the 1994 Disney musical.  It's also the most commercially successful musical of all time.  We saw a travelling production of it at the Majestic Theater in San Antonio last week.

This stage musical is a striking argument for the artistic merits of adapting a story from one medium to another.  Lord knows, we see plenty of arguments for its flaws.  We have TV shows based on movies, movies based on toys, toys based on TV shows, and on and on and on until it feels like there are no new ideas in the world, and creativity will just die, like some vacuous, exhausted ouroborous.[6]

But the flip side of that is that sometimes an adaptation forces you to do 'impossible' things with a medium, and that can push the medium forward.[7]  No librettist in their right mind would make the first scene of their musical "all the animals of Africa descend on Pride Rock for the presentation of the Lion King's firstborn."  And even if someone did, no producer would be mad enough to fund that, because there's just no way to stage it.  But if you're adapting that Disney movie, then guess what, that's what you've signed on for.

So really, Julie Taymor is the star of The Lion King.  When we watch this production, we're watching her ingenuity for staging all these impossible things, using set-pieces and lighting design and an astounding range of puppetry to expand the possibilities of stagecraft, such that it can include "a wildebeest stampede through a ravine nearly kills a lion cub."

The puppetry is absolutely riveting.  Zazu is a standard rod-and-sock design, though the actor is done up with analogous costuming and makeup, so that the actor's expressions can inform his bird's 'performance'.  Elephants tromp through the opening scene, pantomime-horse style.  Buzzards circle around atop spun poles, like tiny kites.  A cheetah slinks through with a bunraku-esque puppeteer discreetly manipulating all her joints.  And then Timon kind of splits the difference, with the feet joined to the actor's feet, while the hands operate one hand and the mouth, respectively.

Meanwhile, the set design is astounding.  Pride Rock spins on and offstage.  Scrims serve as the screens for Javanese shadow puppets.  Cords and apparatus are used for the various long-distance falls.  Again, stage technology strains mightily to keep up with animation, which in turn delights in doing all the things that live-action films can't.

But eventually you have to turn from the technology and talk about the show itself.  As I've said above, I think the storyline behind The Lion King is kind of janky to start with, and merely expanding it to a longer running time doesn't automatically fix that.  But that said, everybody *knows* the plot (because we've all seen the movie), so that gives the show more license to be abstract with it.

And as I said above, I'm not totally in love with Sir Elton's songs for The Lion King.  In some cases, they make the originals better.  For instance, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" switches the main vocal line to a melodic female choral chant, which makes the song a lot less cloying.  (Also, they tweak the orchestrations throughout so they lean less towards pop and more towards Africa, a welcome alteration.)  In other cases, the stage versions don't quite live up to the originals -- pity the poor actor who has to try to out-Nathan-Lane Nathan Lane in "Hakuna Matata".

But the songs they *add* in the musical are really impressive.  Specifically: I didn't particularly mind Elton John's treacly songcraft until I heard the new numbers for the stage version.  The new material avoids the "frosting-on-a-steak" effect -- with a song like "He Lives in You", everything just *fits*.  It's all very beautiful, and it makes you wonder what might have been, with different songwriters on the film who clashed less with the material.

My favorite tweaks from the original were the gentle nudges at the fourth wall that appeared here and there.  Zazu exasperatedly muttering that "This wasn't in the cartoon!" is both hilariously in-character and a nice moment of camaraderie with the audience.  Ditto for the moment after young Simba books it out through the audience, and the hyenas stare fearfully at the crowd: "I ain't goin' out there."

It's a strange, paradoxical thing: sometimes if you don't strain quite so hard to convince the audience to suspend disbelief -- if you take a moment to confer with them that yes, we all know this is a stage production, right?, okay cool -- it can make it *easier* for the audience to lose itself in the story.  It's like, at that moment, you can start to look past all the stagecraft and *communally* settle into the storytelling.  It feels a little less like an actor is there to present a tale to you, but instead, you and the actor are both there to wonder at a story that's just *there*.  And isn't it all sad, and silly, and wonderful, and true?

And that's good, because the actors need all the help they can get in The Lion King.  It's a horribly unforgiving gig.  To be clear, *all* musical-theater gigs are unforgiving, since they require relentless acting and singing and dancing and somehow keeping a smile on your face as you're doing something as physically demanding as endless boot-camp drills.  But in The Lion King, it must be even worse -- not only are you doing all that, but you're also juggling all the puppetry and costuming and oh-god-don't-get-hit-by-Pride-Rock, and you also have to *compete* with that.  You somehow have to put up a performance that will cut through all the spectacle and convey something to the audience.  Oh, and you'll be mercilessly compared to the amazing and famous film cast.


The actors had varying degrees of success.  Rafiki and Zazu were real standouts, cutting through all the noise, re-creating the feel of the characters without doing impressions.  The Simbas (young and adult) did their best with a blandly-written character.  Scar did okay, but it made it very clear that, no matter what you say or do, you cannot -- can *never* -- go "too far over the top" as Scar.  ("This is fine, but CHEW MORE SCENERY!")  And the rest of the cast delivered competent performances that would have been fine in any other production, but got kind of subsumed by the mechanics of this one.

So I'll readily admit I enjoyed this production mostly on the strength of its spectacle.  But I don't think there's anything shallow about that in this case -- it's no more shallow than appreciating a fine sculpture or a beautiful painting.  This production does what spectacle *should* do -- show you something breathtaking, and emotional, and beautiful, and, perhaps most of all, seemingly impossible.

For next week: I'm watching that meteorology course again (and taking notes this time) to see if I can follow it properly the second time through.  I've switched over to a rewatch of The Tick for my "watch while exercising" show.  I've switched over reading the mystery classic Gaudy Night as well as a piano book, and Lindsey and I are still listening to Welcome to Night Vale.  We've started watching season two of Community (which is amazing) and season two of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (which is trying really, really hard).

[1] Consider 28 Days Later, where it slowly dawns on the heroes that they have no choice but to traverse a probably-zombie-infested underground tunnel.
[2] (Hat tip to Lindsey for pointing this out to me.)
[3] Though really that shouldn't surprise me, as she's a highly acclaimed actress and freakin' EGOT winner.  I suppose my problem is, I associate her with Star Trek: The Next Generation, where she never seemed to fit in.
[4] To this day, the bridge of that song absolutely flattens me.
[5] Compare all of this to The Wire, where the questions raised in the "fuck" scene are resolved by a single line, which is itself a single word: "Refrigerator."
[6] ... though Fargo and The Lego Movie stand as well-liked examples of those first two categories.
[7] This is why, to my mind, there will always be a place for improv shows that are "it's like improvised <x>", because doing justice to a work or genre invariably requires some challenging task that improv, left to its own devices, would never take on.  If you're doing (say) improvised Tarantino, you're going to do improvised non-chronological narratives -- so, y'know, make *that* work somehow.

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