Television: Good Omens

Good Omens is fairly high on my list of favorite books; my cat Crowley bears the name of one of the main characters. (Most people assume the name is from Supernatural, but I haven’t seen that show.) How delighted was I, then, when David Tennant was cast as Crowley? Off the charts, really, and he does a spectacular job opposite Michael Sheen as Aziraphale.

I’m not sure I can adequately encapsulate the story for those unfamiliar with it, but basically Crowley is a demon and Aziraphale is an angel, and yet they’re friends. So when the end of the world is on the horizon, the two of them team up to stop it because, honestly, they rather like the world. I suppose it’s just the right blend of bad and good to make them both comfortable without being bored.

There’s a lot more to it than that, such as witches and witchfinders and prophecies and the antichrist and his pet dog (and a character named Pepper!), but it’s all more complex than I can describe, and you might as well read or watch it anyway.

I usually hesitate over adaptations of my favorite books because (a) I worry it’ll ruin my mental picture by replacing my imagination with a “sanctioned” version, and (b) often they’re just terrible. But there’s no reason to be concerned in this case. Good Omens is a faithful adaptation, and in the places where it’s been changed, all the changes work. It’s well cast and just incredibly entertaining. And at six episodes, easy to binge.

I’d say I want more, and I do… except I don’t, if that makes any sense. By which I mean, it’s like a really good meal: so wonderful, you want to keep eating, yet you know that the food will only begin to lose its flavor eventually, and you’ll only end up uncomfortably stuffed, maybe even ill. Better to eat and walk away with the memory of a nice dinner than make yourself sick and come to feel averse to something you used to enjoy. Or, in short form: quit while you’re ahead. So many shows try to press their popularity by eking out season after season, all for the money, until they’re only remembered for not being as good as when they began. Better to tell your story well and end it (Babylon 5) than keep chasing the audience until they turn on you.

Long story short, the Good Omens miniseries is fantastic, assuming you like that sort of thing. I do highly recommend it.

Television: Game of Thrones, “The Iron Throne”

I’m not really going to focus on this episode specifically so much as discuss… Well, anyway, let’s look at why some people were angry with Daenerys’ arc, etc. At least as much as I understand it, though I’d be happy if others would weigh in via the comments. (So long as you remain polite and respectful.)

Dany spent the first few seasons struggling, gathering, strategizing. She became a powerful woman, and she became what many considered a possible savior to free the Seven Kingdoms from Lannister evil. Certainly she felt that way, that it was her destiny to rule, and she persuaded enough people to back her. So when she skewed toward becoming a tyrant herself, many people felt this was out of character for her. Many were upset that this strong female character was being eclipsed by Jon Snow, the “rightful heir.” Jon being painted as a completely good, decidedly uncomplicated guy who “always does what’s right.”

But, truly, Dany showed tyrannical tendencies early on. She’s always been ruthless and focused on her singular goal. So I didn’t find it out of character at all, really. And I can understand the irritation about the way women are portrayed in GoT. The ruling women were invariably autocratic, though their motivations were always different. Cersei wanted power for power’s sake; Dany truly believed she would remake the world as a better place.

What about Sansa and Arya then? The bone of contention there is that both became strong female characters through a certain amount of personal trauma. My understanding of the backlash is that women in GoT are never just strong in their own right. They’ve been beaten into swords by enduring the heat of the fire and the blows of the hammer against the anvil. The underlying messages of: “A woman who wants power is bad” and “a woman cannot be powerful unless she’s been traumatized or disowns her gender” are problematic. The narrative of “this nice [white] boy will save us” is also not great.

Still. I have no real problems with the way the story played out except that it felt rushed in the final couple seasons. A bit more character development could have saved everyone a lot of vexation, so that things like Jamie’s departure from Winterfell wouldn’t have felt so abrupt. The past couple season have barreled through plot points, which I feel is part of what has left some viewers unsatisfied.

I am not one of those viewers. While I can wish differently for some of the characters, realistically this feels fair. (To me, anyway.) It feels true to the nature of the show and to the world as it has been built. This was never a fairy tale. It’s always been a story about how people who want power probably shouldn’t have it, and what happens when they get it and are greedy for more. It’s a story of how any one person (or family) holding that power creates ever more problems. And yet… despite much upheaval, the system remains largely the same. People live and die, wars are fought, and the world goes on. For better or worse. It balances itself.

The wheel doesn’t break. It just turns.

As for petitions to rewrite things, well… I think in the day and age of social media, where there is more contact than ever before between fans and (sometimes) content creators, fans feel entitled to dictate the direction of the shows they enjoy. And that, to me, is unmerited. Fans aren’t in the writers’ room, they don’t get to pitch the story lines they’d like to see. That’s what fan fiction is for. And I’m sure there’s about to be scads of GoT fics.

Unpopular Opinion: Game of Thrones, “The Long Night”

Last night the much awaited Battle of Winterfell occurred on HBO’s Game of Thrones. It was 90 minutes of, well, battle. By all accounts it took a long time to film, too, and as someone who has worked in film, I’m often impressed by the production values of this series. I watch and think, Someone had to time that just right…

But while all my friends and all the people on Facebook and Twitter seem to be in love with this episode, I just… Didn’t find it all that interesting. For one thing, a lot of it was hard to see, so it was difficult to tell what was going on. And the episode felt so long, so interminable. I get the sense that this was done on purpose, to make viewers feel the uncertainty and endlessness of being on the battlefield, but I guess I’m not invested enough in the show overall to have been so absorbed.

Also, I don’t like zombie movies. And this really amounted to a zombie movie.

Were there great moments? Absolutely. I’m not saying the entire episode was a washout, and there was some definite emotional impact. I just don’t seem to be as enthralled as so many other viewers. I liked “Battle of the Bastards” waaaaay more and found it far more impressive. Maybe GoT has made me jaded and given me unreasonable expectations that even it can’t always meet. ::shrug::

It’s Not Yours

Yesterday I read this article in which Martin Freeman, who played John Watson in Sherlock, rants a bit about alternate readings of the text. Namely, he insists that there’s nothing gay in Sherlock and Watson’s relationship, it was never played that way.

My initial gut reaction was, “Wow, that’s a really strong and seemingly homophobic reaction.” But what I think really bothered me about it was the suggestion that the however many viewers who read the text differently had somehow done it wrong.

The moment a book or film or television series meets the public, it no longer belongs to the creator(s). Not the writer, not the actors, not the director, etc. It becomes the property of those who engage with the text. They get to read it and interpret it however they want. It may not be what you intended, and some interpretations may be a stretch, but there is no right and wrong.

One of the first things they taught us in Radio-Television-Film courses at uni was “encoding” and “decoding.” This is the fundamental of all communication, from speaking to writing to filming. You say something, or write something, or perform an action, and the listener/reader/viewer takes that information and decodes its meaning. Some messages are fairly simple. There are only so many ways my son can interpret, “Clean your room.” But if I want to be really clear, I might break it down into: “Put all the clothes on the floor in the laundry basket and make your bed.” Otherwise, his idea of “clean” and mine might not be the same.

When dealing with books or film or television, however, the author of the text is not there to explain the work as the reader or viewer engages with it. Nor would we want them to be. There’s nothing worse than watching a movie with someone explaining everything as things happen. Part of the joy of reading and watching shows is extrapolating information for ourselves. Our brains like having to work.

Look at all the fan theories for various shows, the online communities. People love taking things apart, breaking things down. And the choices they make for that process—the lines along which they break things, the metrics they use—are going to be wide ranging and, at the same time, very personal.

What I’m getting at, I suppose, is that a queer reading of Sherlock is par for the course. There is a grand history of queer readings of all kinds of things, and to stomp your foot and say, “No!” is childish and naïve.

When I’ve been asked about—or sometimes told—things that appear in my books and stories, I don’t say, “You’re wrong.” (Well, maybe if they have a detail or fact incorrect.) I say something like, “That’s interesting. I never thought of it that way.” Or, “Well, that’s not what I had in mind at the time, but I see where you might read it that way.” There’s room for everyone and their ideas, after all, and I’m just flattered they’ve taken the time to think that much about it.

Thing is, I know I can’t control how people will receive my work. I know that, once they’re holding that book, it’s no longer mine. It’s theirs, and they will interpret it however they want, in whatever ways work for them. To throw a little tantrum over it would be unprofessional to say the least and smacks of dictatorship at the worst.

The only way to make sure people read your text the way you want them to is to never write or film it at all.

Groovy!

click here for video

I started my online life as Yukitouya. By which I mean, that was one of my first ever email addresses back in the late 90s. The name is a combination of Yukito + Touya (often also Romanized at Toya, but I used the “u”). Yukito and Touya are characters in Cardcaptor Sakura by CLAMP and probably remain one of my favorite all-time couples. In fact, it only just now occurred to me that their love triangle may have subconsciously influenced the Cee/Marcus/Diodoric triangle in Changers.

I don’t still have the Yukitouya email address; the site it was on folded ages ago. And honestly, I hadn’t thought about Yukito and Touya in years either. But when Cardcaptor Sakura recently returned, well, I began to fall in love all over again. I’ve been showing the first series to my kids and eagerly watching Clear Card each week on Crunchyroll. And now I’ve had “Groovy” (as heard in the video above) stuck in my head for days. But it IS a catchy little number, and one can’t help but be a little buoyed by it, so I won’t complain.

Presented Without Commentary

  1. Irene – a “strong” woman with a shady past who ultimately needs to be rescued by the hero
  2. Mary – a “strong” woman with a shady past who ultimately needs to be rescued by the hero (but isn’t)
  3. Eurus – a “strong” woman with a shady past who ultimately needs to be rescued by the hero
  4. Molly – a weak woman whose attempts to assert herself are unconvincing and unsuccessful, and who pines for the hero and allows him to manipulate her repeatedly
  5. Mrs. Hudson – a strong [older] woman played for comic relief

Best of 2016

I’ve started to see the lists popping up online. Even though there is still one month left in 2016, people are ready to call their favorites, from books to movies to television shows. So I thought about what I read and watched this year, and here are a few notables:

Books

The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young. This pseudo-paranormal mystery set in the bayous of Louisiana is both atmospheric and fast-moving. I raced through it and enjoyed it quite a bit.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Not a 2016 release, but I finally got around to this one and, though long and deep, it’s so well written. Was perfect for the long flights to and from New York.

Dark Dawning by Christine Rains. A novella, first in a series, and it sets up just a very interesting world full of shape-shifters and Inuit mythology.

Lorelei’s Lyric by D.B. Sieders. A twist on mermaids/sirens.

Movies

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. A new window into the world of Harry Potter… pre-Potter.

Sing Street. Just really cute, even if it is mostly a bunch of music videos hung on a very sparse plot frame.

Snowden. An interesting perspective on how and why Edward Snowden did what he did.

The Imposter. A documentary about how a French con artist convinced a family in Texas he was their missing son/brother.

Kubo and the Two Strings. More gorgeous work from Laika.

The Nice Guys. Typical Shane Black, so if you like his stuff…

Zootopia. Above and beyond as far as children’s animated features go.

Love & Friendship. A delightful Jane Austen adaptation.

I know there’s a lot I have yet to see (I do have tickets to Rogue One!), but of the things I watched this past year, the above stand out.

Television

The Crown. I was sucked right into this drama about the start of Elizabeth II’s reign and can’t wait for more.

Westworld. I resisted, and do continue to resist on some levels, but I can’t deny that this is a well-written, well-acted, well-produced program. (I feel similarly about Game of Thrones and The Leftovers. Must be an HBO drama thing.)

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Everything Doctor Who should be, used to be, and no longer is. In short, a whole lot of absurd fun.

Documentary Now! Fun, though the second season was not as good as the first IMHO.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Probably the single thing I most look forward to each week. (And now on break. *sob*)

I also watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine and am just dabbling in Superstore. Started Designated Survivor and AHS: Roanoke and Timeless and need to get back to those… Television is getting harder to keep up with because there is so much and it’s all dumped in one go instead of airing weekly. But hey, even the weekly stuff piles up on my DVR, sort of like all the books I mean to read that pile up on my nightstand or in my Kindle. The above, then, are just shows that definitely had me hooked over the year.

So what about you? Any favorites this past year? Recommendations? Anything to look forward to in 2017? Let me know in the comments!

TBT: Stonehenge II

fullsizerender-1 <-- Click for a bigger image. Yeah, that's me. During my final year at UT Austin, I lived in an apartment with three other girls, and we got it in our heads to go out to Stonehenge II, which at the time was in Hunt, Texas. You can read about it on the Wiki here. This was during my Highlander phase—my nickname was Methos (and there are still people in the world who call me that). So of course I wore my Black Watch cloak and brought my katana. I think what really gets me, though, is seeing my natural hair color again after all these years. I was blonde as a child, but like many blondes it slowly grew a bit darker as I got older. Still, after enough time in the sun, it would be fairly light. When I was at UT, I was outside a lot because I walked everywhere. So my hair here is about as light as it ever was past adolescence. fullsizerender-2

What I remember most about that day is the drive. We stopped for apples, and I bought a shirt because it said “Adam’s Apples” and Adam was Methos’ cover name in Highlander and my friends and I used to joke about the apple he ate in one of the Horsemen episodes. (You either understand what I’m saying here or not. Sorry if you’re confused.) The road out to Hunt was hilly—it’s called the Hill Country for a reason, and it’s beautiful—and we sang songs from Shakespeare and Winedale most of the way. (Two of my roomies had also participated in the Winedale program at different times.) It was a pleasant day, but I have to cringe a little at my own dorkiness. Not that I’m not still dorky. I just wear it better now. I grew into my full dorkdom . . . Or something.

Also, I started dying my hair.

My katana, btw, now lives on our fireplace mantel.

My roommates: Anne, Stephanie, and Christine
My roommates: Anne, Stephanie, and Christine

Me In 3

So I guess the latest thing going around social media is to pick three fictional characters that you feel represent you. Well, here are mine:

macgyver-pilot-cbs methos_at_joes img_0394

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the left there is MacGyver. The original, not this remake thing. “Mac” was one of my nicknames in high school because I watched MacGyver and was good at physics. In the middle is Methos from the television series Highlander. That was my college nickname: Methos. Relatively quiet and mild-mannered but mean when cornered, I guess. Finally we have Sherlock Holmes. I grew up reading Sherlock Holmes stories, watching the Jeremy Brett series, and (as many of you who frequent the blog know), Young Sherlock Holmes is my all-time favorite movie. My best friend and I would play Sherlock Holmes often, and I do know how to read people. I just never know how to behave around them. Because empathy is difficult for me, I tend to go into an analytical mode instead. Makes me come off as cold sometimes. But I’m the person my friends seek out when they need an honest opinion or a new way of looking at something.

“People don’t come to me for sympathy, John. They come to me to solve problems. I don’t have to be nice about it so long as I get the job done.”

How Star Trek: The Next Generation Coincided with Major Events in My Life

That’s a long title, but accurate.

I grew up in a Star Trek household, by which I mean my parents were fans of the original series (TOS) and I can remember seeing the movies with them at the cinema, at least starting with the second one. At some point I got interested enough to request that we rent the VHS tapes of the television series—Trelane made a big impact on me, and the one about the Nazis, and of course seeing Khan in the series put a lot of things in context. Still, I mostly enjoyed movies two through four, would watch them when they were on the movie channels, and we eventually recorded them so that I could watch them whenever.

But it would be The Next Generation (TNG) that would make the biggest impact, and I think it’s largely a matter of timing. I mean, I was already predisposed toward Star Trek, and my parents were somewhat excited by the idea of a new series, too, though I suspect they were also a tad wary. But I was of an age ready to embrace an updated version, something that reflected me more than my parents.

“Encounter at Farpoint” aired on 26 September 1987. I was 11 years old. Just that summer we’d moved from the town I’d more or less grown up in to an entirely new city. I’d just started at a new school. I hadn’t made friends yet. I really needed something, and ST:TNG stepped up to the plate. It aired every Sunday evening and was the way to end/begin the week.

In fact, the show became a basis for bonding. Besides the fact that my best friend “back home” (aka, in my old town) also loved it, kids at my new school liked it, too. And while it could be construed that their likening me to Data (thanks, Asperger’s!) was cruel, it never came across as such. Hey, at least we had something in common to discuss!

ST:TNG saw me through middle school and high school. It ended on 23 May 1994, just as I was graduating and getting ready to leave for university. How’s that for timing? It’s like the show knew I was ready to go and fly on my own adventures. In the meantime, it had been a constant companion, a place of solace, a way to temporarily forget my troubles. It came and went and just the right time, at least for me. And while I tried to also watch Deep Space Nine and Voyager, and much later Enterprise, none of those ever hit that sweet spot again. Maybe because none of them coincided with my transition from youth, through adolescence, and on into adulthood. ST:TNG was with me on the adventure of becoming myself, so that I incorporated it into that very process. Yes, I was the nerd girl with the Riker poster on her wall, and my favorite teddy bear was named William. I can admit it now. I’m all grown up.

Well, maybe not all grown up. Let’s hope that never happens.