Wednesday, October 23, 2013


I don’t know why every review I do starts with me bragging about how cheap something was but I got the first two discs of this show for less than two dollars!  I wanted to watch it because I vaguely remembered it was associated with Pushing Daisies.  It turns out that both shows were created by Bryan Fuller (Wonderfalls aired in 2004, Pushing Daisies from 2007 to 2009).  I was also excited to find out that Lee Pace, the star of Pushing Daisies, is a supporting actor in Wonderfalls.

If you’re not familiar with Pushing Daisies, it’s only one of my favorite shows ever.  Ned can bring dead people back to life, so he gets roped into solving murder mysteries.  Ned can only bring people back to life for a minute so he and his friends never get enough information from the murder victim and have to travel through various hyper-quirky settings and meet people with stylized names.  Meanwhile, Ned is very messed up emotionally because of his powers and frustrates everyone who tries to get close to him.

Unlike Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls takes place in a more or less realistic world.  The main character, Jaye, lives in a trailer park and works in a Niagara Falls gift shop even though she is college educated and comes from a wealthy family.  Jaye doesn’t really want to put effort into anything, but toys at the gift shop start talking to her and forcing her to obey their orders, and when she obeys them, her actions help people.  The toys that talk to Jaye give her very vague, confusing instructions so she doesn’t understand what she is supposed to do until the end of the episode.  It feels like a mystery show even though it isn’t one, and the case of the week format ends up resembling that of Pushing Daisies.

I was disappointed by Wonderfalls.  The first episode made me so happy and the next few episodes were about what I was expecting, but there were some pretty dumb ones and it almost never got as good as the first episode.  I think what I liked so much at the beginning of the show was that even though the concept was quirky, the main characters were cynical and negative.  There’s a similar conflict in Jaye’s appearance and mannerisms; she’s played by Caroline Dhavernas, who slightly resembles Zooey Deschanel and plays Jaye very energetically and with lots of crazy facial expressions.  I guess the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl wasn’t around in 2004 but you know what I’m getting at; you would usually expect this character to be happy, impulsive, and full of wonder.  Jaye adamantly isn’t.  A grouchy/slacker female character is already unusual, but making that character so girlish and energetic even while she’s acting negative was just really cool.  When writers and casting directors stick to tropes you don’t get characters that are as interesting as real people are.

Caroline Dhavernas is wonderful, by the way, and the show was worth watching just for her.  All the other actors were almost as good.

Anyway, on to what I didn’t like.  I think the show just didn’t live up to the promise of being quirky but not in a clichéd way; it ended up being clichéd more often than not.  I really got tired of it during an episode where Jaye is being forced to help endangered birds mate and the birds were being used as a metaphor for, like, six human couples in the show.  There were multiple scenes in the episode where a character was talking about the birds and suddenly came to a realization about their own relationship and then ran off to talk to their partner.  Give me a break.

I also just got annoyed in general by the obsession with romantic pairings and I think the more the show focused on romance the more boring and formulaic it got.  I’m not someone who doesn’t like romance or shipping, but the show kept making every pair of unattached characters fall in love with each other and a lot of the time the good deed Jaye accomplished was just getting a pair of random characters to start dating.  There are other good things that can happen to people besides starting a relationship, and there are other ways for supporting characters to relate to each other.

But yeah maybe the show would have gotten better with time.  They only had 13 episodes.  It’s something to watch if only to see how great Caroline Dhavernas is and to enjoy the four or five episodes that are really good.

Side review: I usually read a lot of episode reviews while watching a TV show.  Mostly it’s for emotional regulation and stuff (I read Wikipedia articles on shows I’m watching too) but it’s really nice when the episode reviews are actually good to read!  I usually just do the AV Club but they never notice when things are racist, ableist, etc. so that’s a little annoying.  A lot of the shows I watch are reviewed on a website that will remain nameless which tries to do social-justice-focused reviews of genre shows, but the writers try to be offended by everything and end up being offensive themselves.  (I have too many examples to list, but they do things like saying a show is sexist because it has female characters who are internally affected by sexism.)

Anyway, while watching Wonderfalls I came across Mark Watches.  I was so happy because when I watched a Wonderfalls episode where a fat guy is treated like a freak and a trans woman is mentioned just to be insulted, Mark and his commentariat all had a problem with that!  Towards the end of the season there was another messed up episode and Mark Watches acknowledged that too.  It was so nice to read reviews that I could relate to.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Buddha Boy--Kathe Koja

I bought this because when I was in middle school, I loved a story by Kathe Koja called "Becoming Charise."  It was in an anthology of fairy tale retellings even though it had only the most tenuous connection to a fairy tale, but I liked it because it was about a girl who was super sad and different.  Basically what happened was that the girl really liked science, was bullied, and briefly hoped that she would get to go to a school for gifted kids but, in a scene where orange juice was described as fluorescent, her aunt refused to let her go for no reason except apparently to make her more sad.

I liked the fluorescent orange juice but maybe another thing I liked was that Charise's life didn't get any better during the story.  It was clearly going to be bad for a while, and she was going to have to deal with it.  I don't know what I would think of "Becoming Charise" if I read it now, but I always remembered Kathe Koja and wanted to read her books.  Buddha Boy immediately looked unpromising, but it cost $1 and I figured I could give it to my Buddhist friend as a joke.

The reason Buddha Boy looked so unpromising is that it clearly belongs to the insipid genre "visibly different kid teaches normal/nervous kid about life."*  I say normal/nervous because the protagonist of these books doesn't actually have to be bland; they can be invisibly different but trying really hard to fit in and seem normal.  Then here comes a kid who is so different that everyone is staring at them constantly and they probably get bullied, but they're totally cool about it and always saying wise things.

(Can I just say that this bothers me as someone who was severely bullied?  I wasn't smiling and producing sound bytes during the period I was getting bullied because I was a total wreck.  I got bullied for very intrinsic things like my name and the way I move and talk, so I couldn't move, talk, or hear my name without thinking about getting bullied.  It wasn't until 7 years later that my name started feeling good to me again.  Meanwhile, there were all these books about blissed-out bullied people, with no apparent understanding that even if you start out calm and centered, if you're constantly trapped with people who treat you like garbage then you're not going to be calm and centered after a while.)

My main problem with this type of book is that the required character archetypes are nothing like real people.  Like, let me tell you about this one scene halfway through.  The main boy, Justin, is hanging out with Jinsen, the titular Buddha boy, who shaves his head and goes around begging for change in the cafeteria.

Jinsen announces at all religions are fundamentally the same, and even though this is a fairly common platitude, Justin's mind is blown.  He thinks and thinks about how could this possibly be true and how it's so SHOCKING that Jinsen thinks that--even though Justin doesn't even have any experience with religion himself.  A little bit later, Jinsen blows Justin's mind even more by telling him that "we're all gods inside," including the guy who bullies Jinsen.  (Why did she give the characters such similar names?)  This time, Justin gets angry because he's offended by the idea that bad people could be gods.  He starts yelling at Jinsen for not being angry about being bullied, while Jinsen just sits there beatifically smiling at him.  Justin runs out of Jinsen's house and runs home, slipping and falling down on the way because of how upset he is.

Now, I can think of possible reasons that a person would get angry about Jinsen's belief set.  Justin doesn't have any of those reasons.  He's just enraged by Jinsen's amazingly mind-bendingly peaceful value set because it's so different.  Justin's example of a bad person isn't even Hitler or something; it's the kid who's bullying Jinsen.  If Justin's idea of the depths of human evil is a kid throwing another kid's notebook into a puddle, then I don't buy Justin being so upset by this conversation that he yells, runs out of the house, and falls down.  (This actually isn't the only scene where Justin is overcome by emotion and runs around and falls down.  Do average kids do this?)

Even more silly than Justin's anger is Jinsen's reaction.  Can you imagine saying something that confuses and upsets your friend, and proceeding to just sit there smiling at them when they're clearly upset, and not making a move to stop them when they run out the door in distress?  Jinsen's response make him seem like an emotional abuser, not the saint we're supposed to think he is.

But this scene makes complete sense for this kind of book, because this kind of book makes no sense.  It's supposed to teach kids and make them think, but how can you get educated from a book where the characters don't act like people?

*(PS: I would like to mention a book that could be mistaken for this, but isn't: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.  I mean it's "a classic," we all know about it.  Something I remember about this book is that yes, Leslie is different, she introduces Jesse to ideas and activities he never thought of before.  But also, Leslie has a mean streak and makes fun of people.  She is reckless.  She is an actual kid, not a smug role model.)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

The first book in this series, The Magicians, is one of my favorites--I really like fiction that’s about fandom, and I like fiction that addresses flaws in its own genre (like A Song of Ice and Fire; as mentioned it’s extremely boring when people don’t understand that’s what the series is doing).  The Magicians fulfills both those categories.  It’s about a sad, geeky kid, Quentin, who grows up obsessed with fantasy books and wishing magic was real.  As an adult, he finds out it is real and patiently waits to get happy, but as thrilling adventures unfold before him Quentin remains as sad as he’s always been.

From my perspective The Magicians was less about the plot and more about Quentin’s inability to be touched by the plot, so the idea of a sequel seemed silly.  Having read it, of course I had fun but I still don’t get what the point of it was--so now it’s time to criticize at length a book I wholeheartedly enjoyed.

For the entire first 100 pages of The Magician King, there isn’t even any plot--the book just describes Quentin’s effortful attempts to feel a sense of adventure after the “happy ending” of the first book.  I started wondering if Grossman was planning to do some kind of concept art where he wrote a huge series of books about Quentin being bored and doing nothing.  I would respect that.  But then the plot started, such as it was.

Now there’s nothing really wrong with what happens in the book, except that it seems to be just for the purpose of taking up space.  “Maybe that’s the point” okay.  I could buy that with the flashbacks to Julia’s experiences with magic (these are interspersed every few chapters).  In these flashbacks, Julia is always undergoing various trials that lead to her discovering that she has to undergo a bunch of other trials.

In a rare non-magic example, Julia is trying to join this message board for mentally ill geniuses, and in order to join it, she is required to solve super complex mathematical puzzles which reveal a phone number where a weird voice is reciting another complex mathematical puzzle in Latin and then she has to solve that and it tells her to go to a geocache in New Jersey which has another puzzle inside it and then that goes on for like 20 years.  And all the Julia sections of the book are like this.

I’m not necessarily critical of this--it’s repetitive, but maybe Julia always has to be figuring something out even when it’s bad for her.  Maybe it’s about a certain kind of person.  But guess what, I don’t actually believe it was intended that way because of how the rest of the book is.  So much of the book is spent on things that are totally pointless.

Deeper Spoiler Level

100 pages in, after trying to have adventures in a bunch of silly ways, Quentin accidentally transports himself and Julia back to Earth from Fillory (the Narnia stand-in where they’ve been living).  Even though Quentin wasn’t enjoying Fillory that much, he is so upset about being on Earth where he isn’t a king and doesn’t have a giant bedroom.  For the next 100-ish pages he and Julia try a lot of things to get back to Fillory.  Then, after they give up, they get transported back to Fillory when they least expect it.

Why did this even happen?  We just don’t know.  Quentin and Julia accidentally bring two friends back to Fillory with them, but these characters don’t do anything except fulfill one very technical purpose in the last few pages.  Was that the entire reason Quentin and Julia got stuck on Earth and spent so much time there?  No, you were just trying to take up 100 pages, I guess.

Deepest Spoiler Level

Now, Quentin and his friends are on a quest to collect seven magic keys because someone told them to do it or something.  Things happen.  Then, Quentin and his new girlfriend accidentally end up getting sent to another world where they discover that the ability to use magic is going to be taken away from humans and also Fillory is going to collapse because it’s made of magic, and the seven magic keys can stop that from happening.

This leads to some funny parts, like when Quentin fusses about how it’s so unfair for magic to be taken away from humans because don’t the gods understand how much humans love being able to use magic?  Then, Penny says that he’s going to take over the quest from Quentin because he’s more competent, and Quentin is very mad because “it’s my adventure” and that’s apparently more important than the quest actually succeeding.  Then, in a few sentences, Quentin convinces Penny that it’s okay for Quentin to do the quest, even though a second ago Penny was convinced that it wasn’t okay.  After spending five minutes learning about this, Quentin and his girlfriend are transported back to Fillory.  It’s too bad something like this didn’t happen when Quentin and Julia were stuck on Earth.

I guess I don’t need to summarize the entire rest of the book, but it basically is the most forced thing ever.  A bunch of really convenient things all happen out of nowhere just when Quentin needs them to happen.  Ooh, remember at the beginning of the book when Quentin was nice to a little girl, and she made him a “passport?”  Well, it’s good that happened because now a passport drawn with crayons by a 5-year-old is necessary to get Quentin into the underworld.  (This would be okay in a Neil Gaiman book.  It’s stupid in this book.)

Then at the end, after all the convenient things happen and Quentin has saved the world, Quentin gets 10 pieces of disappointing news all at once.  He can’t go on an adventure to the other side of the world.  He can’t be a king anymore.  He can’t stay in Fillory.  His friends from Earth aren’t going back to Earth--they’re staying in Fillory even though they constantly said that they didn’t want to be here and wanted to go back to Earth.  Now, they really want to live in Fillory.  Quentin is sad, but I bet he’s happy that this sad ending is going to distract the reader from how easy and convenient all the events of the book were!

Quentin’s Feelings

For a long time, I thought Lev Grossman was really clever because he always explicitly describes Quentin’s feelings and motivations.  “It’s conventionally bad writing,” I thought, “but it shows how Quentin is always overanalyzing himself and consciously telling himself what he’s feeling and what his motivations are.  I bet he might even be in denial about what he’s really feeling.”

But later rather than sooner, I realized I was wrong.  Grossman just actually writes like that.  I’m not sure why I didn’t catch on sooner with lines like, “Sometimes Quentin couldn't believe that he'd lived through it all when Alice, the girl he loved, had died. It was hard to accept all the good things he had now, when Alice hadn’t lived to see them.”  Ha ha ha.

But seriously, I had fun reading this book.

Best AV Club Comment On the Review of the Book

Does he really need someone else to steal a car for him? Can't he fly?”--rock that uke

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

I see Bob and David in your future!

The only episode reviews I can find of Mr. Show are the AV Club, and I always disagree with them, so I’m writing my own. They’re not going to be in order because I only have seasons 3 and 4 on DVD right now and that’s a lot easier than watching them on YouTube (plus listening to the commentaries makes them even better).

I’m pretty clueless when it comes to sketch comedy; I’ve only watched a few episodes of other sketch shows, except for Portlandia, which I’ve watched every episode of even though I don’t usually like it.  It’s getting better, but it often relies almost completely on references, putting them in the place of actual jokes and expecting people to like the show just because they recognize the references.  One of the things that impresses me most about Mr. Show is that I recognized almost none of the references when I first saw the show and still thought it was funny.

It’s sort of hard to pin down what my idea of comedy is, but in addition to what makes me laugh out loud (which tends to be small details like the way a line is delivered), I also appreciate extreme commitment to bad jokes or non-jokes (I recently enjoyed Catherine, by Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp).  I love the New Yorker Anti-Caption Contest.  I also like surrealism, although I don’t know if it falls into one of the first two categories or is something else altogether. 

One of my favorite things about Mr. Show is the way the sketches are connected by dream logic.  No matter how clever it is sometimes, it’s an experience first.  The sketches can’t just be boiled down to one joke or concept, partly because they’re done with such commitment but also because it’s hard to say when one sketch ends and another starts. The links between the longer scenes are really funny and sometimes one character or idea lends itself to what I would consider several sketches (I’m thinking of “It’s Insane, This Guy’s Taint” or “Camp Monk Academy”).  And the sketches are nonstop funny in a lot of little ways that have nothing to do with the concept.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Short form TV diary, part 3

I forgot to say I watched The Secret Circle for a while last year. I pretty much forgot everything about it. Was it that bad? Objectively, I'm sure it was better than Grimm.

*The girls on the show were good looking. They were playing teenagers so maybe I should feel bad but I'm sure they were all very old.

*There was this one girl Diana who was supposed to be sort of the nice responsible one but she was a lot more intimidating and interesting than you would expect from that character.

*One of the main characters died in the first few episodes.

*This guy came and tried to seduce all the girls on the show but secretly wanted to kill the main characters for being witches.

*The main plotline was about how all the kids were witches combined their powers to be more powerful and Diana kept saying that they shouldn't do it because it was bad but they did it anyway and pretty soon it didn't seem to matter very much and the plot was about something else.

*Some of their parents were evil and they were all witches. The most confusing thing about the show was that the 6 (?) main characters were all descended from 6 witches but it seemed like all the witches were married to each other or something, were they all related? It also seemed like this line of witches had existed for a long time and there had always been 6 witches and they usually all dated each other? I didn't understand.

*I also remember a part where this woman didn't move or talk for 15 years because of magic and the main girl used magic to try and save her, but it turned out that her parents had actually frozen her on purpose because she was possessed by a monster. The monster started taking over the main characters and it was okay.

From my description the show sounds watchable and maybe I'll try it again soon, but I can't help but think it means something that I can hardly remember anything about it.

True Blood. Clayton and I were watching the last season of True Blood but why. I just don't care anymore.

Mad Men. I tried to watch the last season of Mad Men but again I just didn't care anymore. I think it was mostly because of Pete, who I used to love. I liked how in the first season he was a jerk, in the second season he went through a lot, and by the third season he was still a jerk but sort of had a good relationship with his wife and was wanting to be a better person. I don't just mean I want everyone to become nice but I liked that his character was developing. This season I started to feel like Pete was just becoming a jerk again and all the characters were being put through the same arcs and loops and it didn't feel meaningful anymore. JUST LIKE LIFE. Is this what Matthew Weiner is trying to tell us? Probably and maybe I'll be interested again someday, but not soon.

Bedlam. I can't believe I forgot this! The second season of Bedlam was amazing. Jed, who you would expect to be alive, is dead. Molly, who you would expect to have been kidnapped and murdered, actually just went to another country to hang out. I forget what happened to Ryan and Kate briefly appears only to leave again. John Foster remains, and actually was a good character who I had feelings about. Some of the ghosts were actually scary. All the bad characters were replaced by good ones! SPOILERS (I decided it's worth warning for them because I respect the show now.)

*Ellie, the Jed replacement. Just better at everything.

*Max, a Nice Guy who is a bartender and is played by an actor who is really appealing. He Nice Guys all over Ellie, while writing a secret blog about her ghost hunting. She finds out and is mad.

*Keira, a young woman who is having an affair with John Foster and he is terrible to her.

*Dan, John Foster's secret son. For the first few episodes, Dan was just a guy who worked for John Foster and was hitting on girls. Then it turned out that he was John Foster's son and JF didn't even know.

Now, my feelings about this are that I like when actors of different races are cast as relatives. John Foster is white and Dan is brown. But the weird thing about this is that when Dan revealed that he was John Foster's son, Max actually YELLED at Dan and was like, "Dan that's not possible, you're not white," and Dan had to painstakingly explain that a person who's white can have a non-white child. Then when Dan told John Foster, John Foster ALSO yelled the same thing at him, even though he presumably remembered that he dated a brown woman. So we had a weird situation where the casting director knew that people can have a relative of a different race, but the characters didn't.

I would consider reviewing this season more in depth because I really enjoyed it. We'll see.

Dog With a Blog, Jessie, ANT Farm, Austin & Ally, Shake It Up, Wizards of Waverly Place, Good Luck Charlie. Not that there's anyone who reads this who doesn't know me, but for the past 8 months I've worked for a severely disabled girl who spends a lot of time resting in her bed and watching the Disney channel. I know all of these shows back to front and am planning on reviewing all of them, the short version is Austin & Ally is the best and Shake It Up is the worst.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Short form TV diary, part 2

I was excited about this blog but I haven't really been keeping it up. As always I've been watching TV though, so here's some stuff I've watched in the last year:

Grimm season two was better than season one. They sidelined Juliette, the worst character. They let Hank, Nick's partner, find out about the animal people so he just wasn't awkwardly wondering what was going on all the time. Towards the end of season one they introduced Rosalee, a fox person who is a love interest for Monroe, the only charismatic character in the first season. Monroe is a wolfman who has decided not to hunt and kill humans, instead going in the other direction of repairing clocks, setting up elaborate Christmas and Halloween decorations, and drinking craft beer. Silas Weir Mitchell, who plays Monroe, is really cute but has something slightly awkward and creepy about him.

I guess I should have mentioned him when I reviewed the show before but I don't think I did. The short version is that the concept and execution of Monroe is the only thing on the show that ever got my attention and it doesn't take a lot to get my attention. Rosalee isn't quite as good as Monroe, but she's appealing and very pretty, and their relationship increases the amount of the show that isn't about really boring characters doing really boring things. Also did I mention the show now sort of has arcs and isn't just about Nick finding out that all murderers are actually snakes?

I'm not saying Grimm has become good, but there have been times that I was sorry the episode was over and I genuinely was frustrated during the midseason hiatus. It also has all the wonderful moments Grimm has always had, like when a woman is on a date with a guy and says, "I'm sorry I'm always crying," and the guy says, "But I want you to cry," grows a giant tongue, licks her tears, blinds her, says, "It's better if you can't see this," and then turns into a giant fly and kills her.

Lost Girl. I watched seasons one and two last year and loved them. The first episode of season three was like the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival in the form of a genre TV show, although I will give the writers some credit for sort of apologizing when people were mad about it, but they didn't really apologize that much. "I'm sorry you thought this 'demon,' who looks like a woman but has a penis and stubble and is trying to get into female-only spaces in order to rape women, was supposed to be a trans woman. Obviously it's just an imaginary demon." (It was also really sad to see queer cis women on implying that no one should criticize Lost Girl because it portrays queer cis women positively.)

Anyway that put me off the show for a while. When I started watching again, all the other episodes in the season were pretty good. The best part was Tamsin, a new love interest for Bo who is actually likable. I know I'm the only person in the world who hates Lauren, Bo's first female love interest, but I just think she is the worst and it was so great to get a character like Tamsin.

Also just really appreciate how much of the show is given over to female characters, female friendships, and lesbian relationships.

Community. Haven't watched season four, don't care, never will. I can't believe I've never written about this show on here because I've been seriously in love with it a year now? It really meets all my ideals of what an ensemble show should be by trying to compassionately portray people who are really different from each other. I think Shirley (the character who is most different from the most central character, Jeff, and also probably from most of the viewers) is written kind of weakly though and could be better.

Obviously the pop culture references are one of the most notable things about the show and I love them, but I got into it because I heard good things about Abed, the Autistic character. I have a whole lot to say about Abed so I will say it some other time. Basically I like how the show inverts so many tropes about how to portray Autistic, crazy, or disabled characters though. Abed is often portrayed as smarter, more in the know, etc. than the other characters--he's not othered so much by them and when he is, they're usually shown to be wrong--and the show makes constant sneaky references to his disability, without talking about it so bluntly that it seems like they're trying to be educational or define him by his disability. I don't know. It's really classy.

Game of Thrones. Watched the first season, read the first book, spoiled myself for EVERYTHING and got really into reading theories and analyses by fans, started reading the second book, watched the second season, and got so overwhelmed by the length of the book and so offended by the crappiness of the adaptation that I just gave up on everything. Then in the last few months, I started reading the books again and this time am really enjoying the length and density and kind of appreciating the show as a chance to relive the books, even though the show fundamentally misses the point of the books.

I won't go on about this because lots of people have written about it much better than me, but just an example. In both the show and the books, a guy gets married to a woman who, for political reasons, he shouldn't marry. To avoid spoilers let's call the guy Donald. In the book, Donald is a 15- or 16-year-old who had sex with a girl because he was stressed out, and now he wants to marry her because he ruined her life by taking her virginity. He announces this out of nowhere and is freaking out about what an idiot he is. In the narrative, this event isn't even treated as that important because Donald isn't a POV character, even though forbidden love is usually this dramatic, world-altering thing, especially in fantasy fiction.

In the show, Donald is the hero and is an adult, and his girlfriend is elevated to a much more major character who shocks him by standing up to him even though he's really powerful (something that would be really unsafe to do in that society!) and travels around the world doing awesome heroic things (something that would be really unsafe to do in that society!) and even kind of snarks about other women who aren't cool enough to travel around the world being heroic and sticking it to powerful men. The book series has smart, talented women characters accomplishing what they can in a patriarchal structure, and this character is a complete fuck you to that by implicitly blaming them for their own oppression. There's also sort of an implication that Donald and his girlfriend are just getting married because Donald decides it's lame to take political consequences into account. The show version of the romance undoes the cleverness of the book version, where instead of being super-romantic and the main thread of the story, the forbidden love happens off to the side and everyone feels like an idiot.

So, yeah. And then this kind of thing is about 50% of the show. The ASOIAF books subvert expectations for fantasy fiction and then the people adapting it for TV are just like, "But fantasy fiction isn't supposed to be like this! Let's make it more like he should have written it, i.e. more stereotyped!"

I probably watched some more shows but now I'm bored. Oh I watched Parks and Recreation. It's fine/would watch again.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

American Horror Story

This show has a format I had never heard of before--an anthology where each story is a season long. Several of the season one actors returned for season two, playing totally different characters, which was something I liked. More than the anthology format or the actors playing different roles, American Horror Story is defined by the fact that it tries to combine too many things into one narrative, making a huge mess that can’t help but delight you.

The first season was written worse and it was obvious the writers were coming up with twists and revelations on the fly; on the other hand, there was only one source of mayhem. The Harmon family had moved into a house where a ridiculous number of people had died, and over time, a bunch of ghosts appeared and did different things. There were all kinds--gay ghosts, disabled ghosts, nurse ghosts, a baby ghost, and even a handsome ghost who shot up his high school and (in the most disturbing twist of all) amassed a tumblr fanbase of teenage girls who were angry that the ghost’s love interest wouldn’t forgive him for killing people. I’ve barely spoiled anything, as I only listed about 10% of the total ghosts in the house. Wherever you looked, there was a new ghost, and it was hard to make it five minutes without laughing.

The second season was less immediately appealing to me because it takes place in an “insane asylum.” I’ve written before about my frustration with this setting--it draws on the fear of crazy people to make itself more interesting, but invariably, the heroes and villains are not crazy and we only see crazy people tottering around in the background wearing straitjackets. (This season has pretty much done what I expected--although, as with last season, Ryan Murphy makes an admirable effort to portray and condemn discrimination against people with developmental disabilities.) Also, I just don’t personally find asylums as appealing as a haunted house.

I kept watching, though, and found that the second season was actually somewhat well written and not entirely ridiculous. This time around, the story seems like it’s actually been planned out a little, and all the point of view characters are interesting and likable (with an apparently villainous character coming around to be one of the heroes). On the other hand, there are way too many kinds of monsters. We get the spooky asylum with some “criminally insane” patients, demon possession, murderous mutants, a serial killer, and aliens, all introduced in the first few episodes. It’s too bad because the story would be perfectly fine with a few of these elements removed, and it seems like there aren’t even going to be any remaining tropes for Ryan Murphy to use in the third season. Is he afraid the show’s going to get canceled and he has to use everything now?

If he is afraid of that, I don’t know why he would be. As far as I can tell the show is pretty popular, and understandably so because it’s one of the most relentlessly entertaining things I’ve ever seen.

Wait Till Helen Comes--Mary Downing Hahn

When I was growing up there were certain books I would read constantly, and this was one of them.  I found it when I was visiting my parents and decided to reread it, since I probably hadn’t done so for at least ten years.

It might be because I remembered the plot twists, but the first 80% of the book is super slow and boring.  The protagonist is Molly, a supposed preteen who acts like an oversensitive 5-year-old.  Sample narration: “I was anxious to run away from the bones in the graveyard, but I couldn’t run away from the bones in my own skin!”  Molly likes nothing more than to write poems about rainbows and sunlight, collect unicorns, and listen to Emily Dickinson poems on tape to distract herself from her fear of death (I’m wondering if Mary Downing Hahn has read any of Emily Dickinson’s poems).

Molly’s brother Michael is the only semi likable character in the book.  He likes science and nature and his main role is to make fun of Molly for believing in ghosts--although amusingly, he thinks ESP and poltergeists are real.  At one point he tells Molly she’s stupid not for saying a poltergeist trashed their house, but for saying it looked like a person.  Real poltergeists are invisible.

Their spacey mom, Jean, is a painter who recently married Dave, a potter.  The whole family moves to the middle of nowhere for the summer so the selfish parents can work on their art.  They tell Molly and Michael that it’s their responsibility to take care of Dave’s traumatized 7-year-old daughter, Heather.

Unfortunately, Heather is an awful girl who hates Jean and likes to set up Michael and Molly so they look like they’re bullying her.  Soon she becomes friends with a little ghost named Helen who is trying to convince her to kill herself so they can “live together with unicorns eating roses in a crystal palace.”  Even though unicorns eating roses sounds disgusting, Heather is enthralled and totally wants to do it.

The majority of the book is the same incident over and over: Molly sees Heather talking to Helen/wearing the necklace Helen died in/generally being creepy, Molly tries to go to an authority figure, Heather denies the story and accuses Molly of bullying her, and all the other family members either get mad at Molly, or mercilessly tease her for being afraid of death and ghosts.  In several scenes, the entire family laughs at Molly for being a wuss.  Even though Molly is hysterically crying 90% of the time, Dave believes that she is a sadistic kid who’s making up ghost stories to scare his daughter.  He also refuses to consider that Heather might have problems even though she saw her mother die and is constantly clinging to him, crying, screaming, and having night terrors.

This was extremely frustrating, and I guess I must have found it rewarding to read about when I was a kid because it tapped into a universal sensitive-poetry-girl feeling of being teased and having no one understand you.  This time around, though, I was just bored.  I also thought that Dave and Jean were horrible people!  Maybe this is something Downing Hahn deserves to be commended for because she doesn’t put the parents on a pedestal, but by the end of the book I couldn’t even accept them as decent.  They just seemed mean and lazy.

Of course, Molly does herself no favors by talking about ghosts instead of just telling people that Heather is spending all her time in gross, dangerous places where multiple people have died.  I didn’t remember how dumb she was.

After slogging through the majority of the book, I finally got to the end where Helen actually does some scary stuff and it’s up to Molly to save Heather, showing her love for her so they can finally become real sisters.  This part is fine, and although it isn’t scary to me now, it’s probably a good level of scary for an 8- or 10-year-old.  Maybe the length was intended to develop Heather’s character, but I can’t help feeling that the book would be so much better if there were half as many incidents of Michael, Heather, Dave, and Jean ganging up on Molly.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Nightmare Factory

This is a comic adaptation of some stories by Thomas Ligotti, who is apparently famous. In my original review of this book, I said it was confusingly terrible, but after doing further research I have to say that I just don’t understand Ligotti’s vision and he would probably want someone like me to have the reaction I did. From this sample of four, I can say that Ligotti’s idea of a horror story goes something like this:

An underdeveloped male character, probably kind of depressed and studious, hears about something bad. A big group of people do something mysterious. Something scary and disturbing is seen. The protagonist is a little creeped out but ultimately just miserable. At the end of the story he’s even more depressed and makes a comment about how his sanity is lost forever.

I am a dull person and I guess I enjoy by-the-numbers horror. To me the scariest part of a horror story is usually the explanation or realization of the horror. Whenever a disturbing image would appear in Ligotti’s stories, I would get excited for the reveal of where the image came from or what it signified, but instead the main character would just reveal how depressed and miserable he was.

When I internet researched Thomas Ligotti he seemed like a respectably consistent guy who, rather than failing to write what I expected from a horror story, is just pursuing entirely different goals. He says that he’s very depressed, hates everything, isn’t interested enough in real life to write realistic characters, and only wants to communicate how much he hates everything and thinks life is meaningless. He actually seems like a nice guy.

I wouldn’t read any more of his writing, but I did think the second and third story in the graphic novel had interesting art, and the art in the fourth story was beautiful.