Half-Formed/Unfinished Thoughts

Over the past few months, I have had a lot of ebbs and flows with inspiration. It seems that when I start something- sometimes getting really deep into it- I lose the plot and think “am I really saying anything here?” In the past when this has happened I just abandoned it and waited for the muse to strike again- hence the long dry spells in posts. But, lately I have been staring at these half (or more) formed ideas in my documents folder and they have been haunting me and pushing me farther and farther into a self-imposed shame spiral. Today, a friend said, “just post it” and I thought, ok, sure that will at least get them out of my way.

Here they are, I went through and edited them so they’re readable but other than that these are the raw posts. They don’t end, they barely go anywhere even after, in some cases, strong starts and one just kind of babbles endlessly. But, this gets them out of my brain and into the world so I can maybe begin to focus again on something coherent. Hell, maybe one day I will pull one out and actually finish it properly (doubtful).


On BoJack Horseman season 4

I have talked about BoJack Horseman, Netflix’s surprisingly affecting cartoon, before but never really in depth. After finishing the just released season 4 the other day I think it’s time to really discuss this show that looks like a funny cartoon about an alcoholic horse but is actually one of the most wrenching series about loneliness, trauma, and overwhelming sadness I have ever seen.

As we meet BoJack (Will Arnett) in season 1, he is a washed up former sitcom star who boozes, philanders, and is generally a terrible person…uh… horse. Throughout the rest of the season and through season 3 we watch BoJack alienate everyone close to him while he leaves destruction in his wake. As BoJack is our perspective character, we see how much his actions torture him but he seems compelled to keep destroying himself and anyone that happens to fall into his orbit. What makes the show so watchable is that while the emotional story is so unflinching, the show is also very funny. It’s crass, sarcastic, and filled with jokes from all along the comedic spectrum.

On the opening credits of Star Trek: Discovery

As a huge Star Trek fan I have spent a lot of time watching and thinking about the various incarnations of the series. And, with Star Trek: Discovery now upon us I have noticed something about the opening title sequences that I don’t know if I have ever been able to really explain.

Backing up for a second, I love opening title sequences. It really makes me unhappy that in the post-Lost era we’re in a minimalist swing to the titles as I believe there is a certain artistry to the whole creation of the sequence. You have to capture so much about the show in addition to just listing the names of the actors.

With Star Trek though, the entire theme of the series is captured in the opening sequence. Both the music and the visuals serve to inform the audience what they’re in for. And, as the series evolved, so too did title sequence.

Take Star Trek. The original series is remembered primarily for William Shatner’s voice over, but the music, combined with the wooshing Enterprise really evokes what Roddneberry pitched the show as “a wagon train to the stars.” The music even has a sort of Western-y vibe to it but the vocals give it that alien feeling.

On Star Trek: Discovery in general

I have been silent on Star Trek Discovery on here since its premiere. When they said that they were doing something wholly different, I wanted to see how that played out before I judged the series (too much, I am who I am still). See, I am the Trek guy who came to the series in the TNG era. I had seen- and of course loved all the movies (except Star Trek The Motion Picture because I am not a monster)- but the universe sort of lost me after DS9. Full disclosure, I didn’t even finish DS9 until many years later and I have yet to finish Voyager or start Enterprise. I guess I never really got into the “sandbox” style of those later shows that were both connected and yet separate from the stuff I knew. With Discovery, I knew it was a “prequel” series as it were but I really wanted to see where they could go story-wise to bridge Enterprise to TOS. It seems that they are just…not going to?

Just to keep 21st century audiences engaged, the technology displayed on the show is leaps and bounds above what was possible in the 1960s-era TOS. Discovery is not likely to even try to explain that because rule of cool I guess. But plot-wise Discovery is doing things that simply could not be reconciled with anything that Trekkies had ever seen before and after the mid-season finale I think I finally get how they’re going to explain that away.

So, the least spoilery way possible…

At the end of episode 9, “Into the forest I go” a couple of huge things happen: 1 involving what makes the Discovery “special” and the other regarding their security chief. For the security chief plot, the internet is full of theories about this character and based on a few of the breadcrumbs dropped I’m willing to bet that those theories are basically true.

As to the other, and again I am doing this without spoilers and with nothing but guessing, I think that the episode ending twist is going to serve to basically wipe this show out of continuity.

On suspension of disbelief (2 different takes on the same idea. Parts of part 1 were merged into part 2. This is likely the one that finally broke me)

Part 1 (or the first attempt at this idea)

This got me thinking about what I watch and why I don’t like the shows and/or plots that I don’t like. Broadly speaking*, I prefer character-driven stories rather than plot-driven stories. Character-driven stories are those in which the choices, actions, and reactions of the characters both inform and create the story — a story that could only happen with those specific characters because of their histories, abilities, and personal relationships. Contrarily, plot-driven stories are ones in which the plot would have happened no matter who was involved and the characters involved are just there doing it’s bidding. As an example, from an anonymous reddit user:

“Plot Driven: A New Hope

i.e. the plot motivates nearly everything that happens. Individual characters have ancillary motivations within, of course, but they’re mostly moved from place to place because of ‘the plot’, being that there is an Evil Empire out to squash a rebellion with a space laser and the rebels need to try to stop it. (e.g. Luke wants to come but ultimately has to stay home, until The Empire comes and blows up his home, Han is motivated by money but it’s not until the Empire is onto him that he actually gets pushed out the door, Obi-Wan’s ‘true’ motivations were likely always to seek Vader, but he only gets there because Alderaan is destroyed(plot)…etc.)

Character Driven: Empire Strikes Back

i.e. movie concerns itself more with the interpersonal relationships between the characters we met in the first movie. The Empire vs. Rebellion plot is still going on but it’s not motivating the characters in the same way(and the literal first sequence of the movie involves the rebellion dispersing not to be seen again until the end). They’re mostly acting for each other and their characters express and grow more fully in the process. Han searches for Luke because of their relationship. Luke goes to Dagobah because of his relationship with Obi-Wan. Han goes to Cloud City because of his relationship with Lando. Luke abandons his training because of his relationship with Leia(( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)). Lando and Chewie embark for Tatooine to save Han…etc. And of course “No, I am your father”.”

All of this is to say that, for me, the plot mechanics are secondary to the story that the characters are living. This is likely why I am always so down on “procedural” shows because the process of how it’s all done is less interesting than the fact that it happened at all and why.

That said, nothing annoys me more than shows that don’t follow their own internal logic and handwave plot-holes in service of “just getting to the point.” Jane the Virgin has neatly sidestepped their constant status-quo changes with jumping forward in time (several years most recently) which allows a lot of things to change and reset. Then there are shows like DC’s Legends of Tomorrow which established early on how they could understand/”speak” any language because of technology but in the most recent episode ignored the fact that ancient Vikings could somehow understand the Furby-like plot device of the week. Once that was pointed out to me it really bugged me. Why? Because it violates the internal logic of the show for plot purposes and just expects the audience to go with it. That right there? That is why nerds have a terrible reputation — because we’re too pedantic with the stuff we’re into to ever just “go with it.” Except, well it had to be pointed out to me before it annoyed me, I think I just love Legends so much I am willing to let a lot slide.

I have always believed that it is important to be critical of our media. To me, asking questions and noticing the flaws doesn’t negate my enjoyment in any way — it in fact enhances it. Taste is a personal thing and thinking about why you like what you do can really be beneficial in opening yourself up to new media and

*I say “broadly speaking” because despite all my protestations to the contrary, I can get into a really an ultra plot-driven pile of crazy just as much as anyone. Honestly for all of my (allegedly) high-minded chatter here over the years, the length and breadth of my tastes really run all over the place

Part 2 (or the next track I tried to follow)

“The term suspension of disbelief or willing suspension of disbelief has been defined as a willingness to suspend one’s critical faculties and believe something surreal; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment” — Wikipedia

As you might have guessed I watch a lot of shows that…let’s just say don’t trade in the real world a lot. From heightened reality to straight up science fiction, my disbelief has a lot of heavy lifting to do. In a discussion with a friend about Arrow, he mentioned that it was hard to believe that Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) and Curtis (Echo Kellum) could so quickly devise an algorithm to do whatever it is they were doing that week and thereby solve the problem of the episode. His position is that that process could take years and the fact that they shortcut it really takes him out of the experience. But, I replied in horror, would anyone want to watch the derivation of such scientific mumbo jumbo in real time? Isn’t it better if you just take it as “thing needs to happen and so it does” rather than watching the entire process? I guess for him, no, the whole thing is important (within reason, he did admit that “years” was perhaps too long).

For me, I don’t so much care about the reality of the situations so much as the reality of the people in them. From the earlier example, I don’t so much care that Felicity and Curtis can do instant superscience because they have been established as geniuses. Now, if Rene (Rick Gonzalez) and Quentin (Paul Blackthorne) were suddenly in charge of the technobabble that would violate the “truth of their characters” and annoy the hell out of me. That the superscience technobabble occurs in a world in which there are metahumans, a multiverse, and time travel, never bothers me because that is the truth of that world in which they exist. As long as everyone is following the rules that they have established, or things can be explained in the framework, I am all set.

All of this is to say that, for me, the plot mechanics are secondary to the story that the characters are living. This is likely why I am always so down on “procedural” shows because the process of how it’s all done is less interesting than the fact that it happened at all and why.

All that bring me to Syfy’s new series Happy! an ultraviolent action/crime thriller in which a substance abusing ex-cop is teamed with an imaginary flying horse to save a little girl. Really. It’s based on a comic so let’s just go with it. Happy! is not a great show, in fact I couldn’t even make it through episode 2 before the wild tonal shifts gave me a headache. No, I am bringing it up as an example of a really common problem in genre TV/Film that needs to stop: The main character not accepting the reality of their situation.

In Happy! Christopher Meloni’s Nick Sax spends most of the pilot and the half of episode 2 that I watched denying that Happy (a CGI blue flying horse voiced by Patton Oswalt) could be anything else but a hallucination brought on by the MASSIVE amounts of drugs, alcohol, and trauma in and around his body. While this is a reasonable assumption, when the entire thrust of the series is a play on the buddy-cop genre your characters must get over it and accept the crazy. I don’t even mean instant acceptance, but keep it moving.

On Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Rian Johnson had the odds stacked against him. Before Star Wars: The Last Jedi even opened, he was under the tightest of microscopes. Prior to this year, his biggest credit was as writer/director of 2012’s Looper and as the director of the antepenultimate episode of Breaking Bad (the episode “Ozymandias”, incidentally, is widely considered to be one of the finest episodes of television ever produced) ­ in 2013. Prior to the release of The Last Jedi it was announced that he’d been given his own new Star Wars trilogy to follow after episode 9. And, after Star Wars fans were finally feeling optimistic about the franchise after 2015’s The Force Awakens, Johnson’s margin of error was practically non-existent. Which is why it is such a shame that all of The Last Jedi’s problems are squarely his fault.

As both writer and director, Johnson was responsible for basically every aspect of the movie. And, while it is a good movie that I thoroughly enjoyed, it is not without significant faults. Scripting and pacing are both very odd in this movie as almost the first hour of the 2 hour and 34 minute runtime is glacially paced and very little happens. The rest of the movie is one part Ocean’s 11 and one part Battlestar Galactica followed by about 5 separate climaxes. The movie is so all over the place that it feels like Johnson is a 4-year-old telling his parents what he did in school and is so overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information that he is breathlessly recounting even the most mundane of details.

On The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story

It would be impossible to talk about FX’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story without discussing how beautiful it is. The sets- down to using some of the real locations from the notorious crime, the costumes- because of course, and the cinematography are all amazing. But, it’s not just physical beauty, the performances just in the pilot are astoundingly gorgeous.

While the subject matter of the series, the 1997 murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace (Edgar Ramirez) by serial killer Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) is grisly, the portrayals are mesmerizing. Criss plays Cunanan as a man desperate to portray a certain image. The story of the show, taking place both in the time leading up to the crime (and the associated crimes) and in the aftermath of it, shows Cunanan to be a man who carefully controlled who he purported to be. Be it, interesting, fashionable, on the edge of fame, an intellectual, a creative, and most importantly a straight man. Criss’ performance is amazing as his scenes in the “past” are suave and effusive as he flits between lies and grand stories and his scenes in the “present” are a study in explosions of rage followed by panic, and then a completely sociopathic detachment from emotion. After only one-episode Criss’ performance is already somewhere between groundbreaking and career triumph.

The rest of the cast is similarly spectacular particularly Penelope Cruz as Gianni’s sister Donatella who’s focus is protecting the legacy of her brother- both in his business and in his life- which leads her to trying to control the narrative of her brother’s story in every way. Cruz’s Donatella is a woman who deals with tragedy by taking control and not letting it go. Ricky Martin also stars as Versace’s partner of 15 years Antonio who spends most of the first episode mostly paralyzed by grief — which don’t get me wrong is still wonderfully done but at this point he has had the least to really do in the show.

This was not meant to be the second season of Ryan Murphy’s crime dramatization series. The 1st season, The People vs. O.J. Simpson was an awards powerhouse and was life changing for the cast and some of the subjects portrayed. As a follow-up, Murphy announced that season 2 would focus on Hurricane Katrina. That season didn’t come to fruition — I have seen rumors that it might become season 3- Murphy crafted this story instead.

While the Versace case might seem to be an odd topic, if you were gay in the 90s and paid even the slightest attention to the news this story is ingrained in your DNA. Versace’s death was not only a blow for the fashion community, the story of the murder was basically a nightmare for anyone in power who was still in the closet. All of Versace’s “dirty laundry” as it were became salacious public record. Cunanan’s seeming targeting of wealthy closeted gay men made hiding feel like a literal death sentence while coming out in 1997 could still be a figurative one. And, while many people weren’t shocked to find out Versace was gay


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