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In other news...

- I attempted a push-up today. I failed. But the fact that I felt like it might be a possiblity--that's an improvement!

- Today was our audit midterm. There are two sections in my program. For all the other classes, we have the same teacher in both sections (which means they do the exact same two-hour class back-to-back). For audit, we have different teachers. Our exam--well, he allowed us to start 15 minutes early if we got there in time. I did, and I was still writing right up until the end of class. Everyone was shaking out cramps in their hands at the end. The other section? Their exam was no big. They got out in less than an hour. CURSE THEM. CURSE THEM TO HELL.

- I am feeling super productive today. Let's see how long that lasts!

- I'd forgotten how much I love Schubert's "Death and the Maiden."

Oh! TV:

Once Upon a Time )

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland )

For all that many of the Once Upon a Time storylines bore the hell out of me, I do kind of love that there's a show on TV that is just ludicrously over-the-top fantasy, with mermaids and dragons and fairies and pirate ships on my screen every week. Half the time the actors are floating in a void of special fx (the Red Queen's hand was definitely in a banister in one shot), but I do love that CGI has come far enough that you can even have something like this on the small screen. I mean, remember the special fx in Hercules? Yeah. We've come a long way, baby.

Blacklist )

Sleepy Hollow )

There's also Person of Interest and Elementary, but eh. Elementary's managed to pull itself completely out of the horror that was the early half of season one. And hopefully PoI can pull itself out of the nosedive it's currently in. See? This is what happens when you have too many cast members.

Oh! That reminds me. Agents of SHIELD. This week was the first time the plot actually made sense and wasn't overtly offensive, but truly, the characters all bore the shit out of me. I'm hoping they pull a Doyle and do some serious recasting in the next couple of episodes, cause this is for real a cast of characters created by committee. Bland, bland, bland. Even Torchwood had better characters, and Torchwood was a hot mess.
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I’ve been watching Midsomer Murders, because it’s there, really. It’s on Netflix streaming and there are 18 seasons, with 4-5 episodes each, each episode an hour and three quarters, or 126 hours altogether.

They are WILDLY variant in quality, episode to episode. I can actually tell which ones are based on Caroline Graham’s books and which ones aren’t, though I’ve never read any, because Graham has a way of creating capital-C Characters—kooky undertakers and strange ladies that live in train carriages. She also has a bit of an obsession with incest and with crazy old people. I enjoy those episodes; they’re very twisty, and there’s always something interesting going on.

Then there are the…others. Like the episode about people dying in an old folks home where it’s revealed that they all just died of natural causes! No conspiracy or murder! Just senile old people being paranoid. WHAT AN EXCITING TWO HOURS OF TELEVISION.

There’s one more thing about the series that kind of bothers me, though. And that is Det. Barnaby’s wife, Joyce. She is the perfect little homemaker, in that she doesn’t appear to do anything else. In the first episode, she’s cooking him Julia Child-style lunches—by the end of that season, they’ve decided it would be more interesting if she were a terrible cook. And from then on she’s constantly getting ribbed about her awful cooking. But here is her role, from week to week: she cooks meals that Barnaby then jumps up from, having had an epiphany; she makes plans to spend time with him that he bails on; and she listens to his exposition. There’s a lot of her listening to him talking about his day, and not much reciprocated.

They have an adult daughter, Cully, who at least has her own life (as a stage actress). But she’s always around helping her mom take care of her dad. There’s a whole episode based around Joyce going to her mother’s and Cully thinking she’ll get father-daughter bonding time, only to spend the whole week cooking meals he doesn’t eat and making dinner plans he doesn’t show up for. This is a lesson, you see—she needs to learn that this is what it’s like to be married. (Not really exaggerating about this.)

And of course, should Joyce ever want something, like to renew her wedding vows, or do something on her own, like judge a local contest, it goes disastrously wrong and ends in murder. That’s the kind of show it is, but it also reinforces this image that she’s really not allowed to have her own life outside of her husband’s work.

These are all old saws, of course. And this little family is meant to be loving and idyllic. But the repetition of these sort of Norman Rockwell tropes—of having the woman constantly striving to have the perfect home only to have the man’s needs run rough shod all over it—is really grating to me, precisely because it is taken as so normal as to be completely unquestioned.

After a few episodes, I engaged in a thought experiment—are there any shows with female lead detectives who are married and who have the same dynamic? I can think of plenty where the woman has no success in love at all because she is so focused on her career. But I can only think of one, The Closer, where the woman is in a successful long-term relationship in which she is constantly running over the man’s emotional needs and breaking commitments because of her work. And even then, Fritz is an FBI agent and they frequently get into knock-down fights about her disregard for him. Compare that to Midsomer Murders, where Joyce not only doesn’t get mad about her husband’s behavior, but when her daughter does, counsels her to just accept it.
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I decided to watch the original 21 Jump Street cause Johnny Depp with a pompadour. We are sixty seconds past the credits in the pilot and we've already hit race!fail. \o/
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- I watched This Means War, which is the most horrid conglomeration of offensive rom com cliches I've ever seen in one place. If you ever want a demonstration of what not to do, watch that movie. It says something that a movie with Chris Pine and Tom Hardy as best bros, where Tom says can you imagine having what we have with each other with a woman, and Chris says no, where they watch surveillance tapes of each other having sex, and it is still the least slashable movie in history. The least of the problems is that the two of them are inexplicably cousins.

I confess that I was mostly using it for background noise while completing other tasks, but it still made me feel like I needed a shower.

- On the other hand, I've started watching Foyle's War and it is fantastic. It is a police procedural set on the south coast of England during World War II. So though it's a procedural, and though it's on the homefront, it's really about the war. (And I need to warn for all sorts of horrible war related things. Let's just say, people of all ages die, and if you don't want to spend two hours bawling, skip the third episode.)

What I love about it is how it shows the little ways that the war changes things: like one character running late because she disabled the car the previous night, in case the Germans invade, and now can't find the missing part. Or that the only people around are children, old men, and women. And the few RAF pilots on active duty. That the town is populated by World War I vets, all of whom deal with the shadow of that war differently when facing this one. And that the crimes are largely opportunistic--people who think the war will cover for them.

It's really quite good, and packed with oh, it's that guy!s. In the first few episodes alone, you've got James McAvoy, David Tennant, the dude who played Brutus in Rome and some women who I swear were in Austen adaptations I've seen.

The only drawback is each episode is an hour forty minutes, so you put one on thinking you'll watch a little bit and take a break and next thing you know it's dinner.
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In my overheated, internet-ish apartment last night, I was watching Being Human (UK). I'd been putting this off for a while, despite the Netflix discs sitting on my table. I watched the unaired pilot before the show came out and really liked it. I watched it a few times, in fact, since there was such a lag between it and the series being greenlit. Then I watched the actual pilot and was appalled--the recast everyone except Russell Tovey, and I was not a fan. But, I figured, I should give it a shot. So I watched the second episode and really hated it.

Now I'm trying once more to watch it. Since it's been a few years, I rewatched the first two eps, and the second episode really encapsulated what I don't like about the show. It was one exact moment: spoilers, obv )

I'm going to give it a few more eps to see if any of the subplots get interesting, but I think I'm sticking with my initial assessment.
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I've been watching Coal, which Netflix told me was a documentary series when it is, in fact, a reality show. It's basically a Deadliest Catch knock-off set in a coal mine. For reasons that do not need exploring at this juncture, I'm interested in mines--I've read about coal mines and went to Kiruna specifically to tour the largest iron mine in the world. So I've continued watching despite all the cheesy reality-ness just for a chance to see a working coal mine.

The show is about a start-up coal mine, and it becomes very clear very quickly why these two prospectors could get the mineral rights for this seam. Because all the big coal companies concluded--correctly--that it would cost more to mine the coal than the coal is worth.

In the first few episodes, you see that the amount of coal that has to be mined each shift to break even--that is, just to cover the cost of the mine running for a day, not even to recoup the initial investment--is the very most that has ever been mined in a single shift. When your peak performance (which you almost never reach) is your break even point, you're doing it wrong.

And when they actually once manage to exceed the minimum, just by a little, they discover that the company they contract to truck the coal away from the mine isn't capable of hauling that much coal. The trucks have to go over a bridge with a weight limit to leave the mine, which means they can only be half full.

So, to reiterate, in order to turn a profit, this mine would have to:
a) Mine as much as they have on their best day every single day and
b) Truck more coal than they are capable of trucking.

Not to mention, lots of shit goes wrong in a coal mine. And not just of the life-threatening variety. The most common injury for these miners is actually back injuries, since the mine is only three and a half feet tall. You spend your whole day bent double hauling heavy things, you're going to injure your back. Clearly related to this, pain killer abuse is rampant.

And there's the fact that this mine only has one of every piece of equipment and is running all of it twenty hours a day with no maintenance scheduled in. They need absolutely every piece of equipment to run for the mine to work, and they're not maintaining any of it. So shit breaks down. CONSTANTLY. Plus, their generator isn't actually big enough to power all that equipment, so if they run the miner any more than gingerly, it trips the circuit breaker. And every time that happens, it takes fifteen minutes to reset. Not because the machine takes that long to reset, but because somebody has to walk up a hill to the generator. Given that they trip the circuit breaker fifteen times a shift, you would think it would be logical to make the guy stay next to the generator, rather than waste almost four hours of a ten hour shift waiting for him to walk up a hill.

And we also find out that they are underpaying the miners by calling them temporary workers who just happen to be operating whatever piece of equipment, rather than calling them equipment operators and paying them appropriately. And they don't pay benefits. Coal miners. With no health insurance.

Which means management spends all its time yelling at the miners for being crap when a) anyone who could get a job at any other mine would take it rather than staying in this shit hole and b) it's not the miners that are making the production so low, it's the incredibly crap equipment held together with gaffer tape and barely powered.

The big drama of the season is building up to a fight between the miners and the owners and I'm sorry, but that's self-inflicted. There's bad management everywhere, but there's something especially morally repugnant about watching terrible management of a company where the employees are literally risking their lives, both in the short and long term, every shift.

As a side note, have you ever paid attention to subtitles in reality TV? A lot of the time they use subtitles because the recording conditions aren't optimal, but there also seems to be a degree off of standard American accent that automatically gets subtitled. As these miners all have thick Appalachian accents, they are almost always subtitled, though I almost never have trouble understanding them. There's something vaguely...I don't know...offensive about how and when producers choose to subtitle.
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I have continued to watch The Guardian and my god, this show. Why does it not have a fandom? Nick, the main character, is the biggest woobie ever. He's like Logan from Veronica Mars without the problematic spontaneous bouts of violence. And fandom loves Logan.

Basically, Nick is an emotional child who doesn't know how to handle adversity at all and always ends up turning his rage and frustration inward onto himself. And he's surrounded by a cast of extremely selfish people who keep dumping their problems on him until he explodes, which they are then shocked (shocked!) by.

Because [livejournal.com profile] jethrien found it amusing and I doubt any of you are going to watch The Guardian if you haven't already, here's a run down of the first season:

In which a succesful show on CBS has a plot not distinguishable from a 13-year-old's epic saga on fanfiction.net )

So, I ask you--is that fundamentally different from a fanfiction.net story? Well, it's different in one key way--it stars a hot guy, so it's a lot easier to look at.
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In TV news, I started watching The Guardian. Because Simon Baker is cute, and for previously stated reasons, I can't bring myself to watch any more of The Mentalist.

The premise of The Guardian is that Baker is a spoiled rich lawyer who was busted on drug charges and has to do community service providing legal aid to abused children. Cue twee heartwarming shmaltz, you'd think.

But--I've only watched a handful of episodes so far and in pretty much every one, he fails. He pulls out all the stops, performs genius heroic legal theatrics, and he still fails. The girl runs away with her abuser, or the kid still gets taken away from his loving stepfather and put in an awful group home, or the kid dies, or the kid is so traumatized that nothing Baker does actually makes any difference.

And it's not the perverse voyeurism of Law & Order:SVU, where the whole point is to shock and horrify the main characters so that you can end the episode with ominous music and a slow pan away from their gaping faces. Nor does it really seem to be about him Learning A Lesson, though that's clearly the underlying arc of the show.

It's more like the constant grind of trying hard and being disappointed is what this kind of work is about. And at least so far, Baker isn't throwing himself at these cases because he's looking for redemption or becoming a better person, but because he is a stubborn asshole, and you give him a bureaucratic mess of a broken system and he's going to try to prove that he can fix it. Even though he can't.

He's also...not a nice character. I mean, his character is a flaming douchebag in Mentalist, but you're clearly meant to see his assholery in that show as him "not taking any crap" and "cutting through the red tape" or some nonsense. In this show, there's an episode whose entire plot is that he slept with a sixteen-year-old. Not too many shows would do that to a main character.

So I'm left wondering how this show possibly stayed on the air for an entire season, let alone several. It so skillfully eschews all of the cheesy, tearjerker moments the premise seems designed for. I haven't decided if I like it yet, but...at least it's something different.
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I finished watching the first season of Deadwood last week. On the last DVD, there's an interview with the show's creator, producer, and (almost) sole writer, David Milch. In it he talks about the role of language in defining order in a lawless society, the nature of language and profanity in the Old West, how the Hayes code led to the erroneous cliche of the laconic cowboy (if he's prohibited from cursing, well, best to have him not speak at all), the difficulty of integrating fictional and historical figures, etc. etc.

This interview gelled for me the problem that I have watching TV shows like Deadwood. On the one hand, I am in awe of the attention to detail and the amount of thought that went into the writing. Deadwood is filled with complicated, multi-layered, detailed, "rigorously specific" (as Milch said) characters. The women, in particular, are fantastically done, especially given that the show is set in a time and place where men outnumbered women twenty to one and 95% of women were prostitutes. It is worth it, to me, just to watch for the concious way he uses language--different characters speak differently, and that difference says everything about their social status and their background.

However. The show has no plot. Milch says he never plans things out in advance; he just lets the characters speak to him. Which is how I think he can portray such complexities. But there is no plot, no forward momentum at all. I've noticed this same malady in a number of other critically acclaimed shows recently, Mad Men in particular, but also to some extent Rome. And call me a stickler, but I like my well-drawn characters to exist within a plot.

Spoilers for seasons one of Deadwood, Mad Men, and Rome )

Compare this to something like Back to the Future which manages to have vivid characters without a single extraneous scene. I rewatched it recently, and every single scene serves the plot, as well as the characters.

I guess my annoyance with this is two-fold. One, these shows are heaped with accolades, and I wish as much critical attention was spent on good plotting, because I think that's just as difficult to pull off. The second is that I really enjoy historically accurate television, so I want to like these shows. But not a one compels me to marathon a season the way I just did Fringe, because not a one has an inexorable mounting tension that I must see through.

The shows are essentially literary television, which, like literary novels, often let themselves off the hook for having a story that goes anywhere. But unlike literary novels that exist between two covers and have a beginning and an ending by virtue of the format, literary television just goes on and on until its canceled.

I will probably continue to check out these shows from time to time, but I doubt I'll become a fan of any of them.


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