Dollhouse: This Is Starting to Be a Problem

by on Oct.03, 2009, under television

Two episodes now with no mention at all of the future world of Epitaph One. It’s almost as if Whedon & Co. no longer have any intention of going there in what is looking more and more like the last 13 episodes this show will ever have. That’s a problem mainly because the weekly standalone episodes don’t work and have never really worked—and what’s more, we’re seeing almost no Enver Gjokaj and precious little Dichen Lachman. I don’t want to watch this show, and I don’t care about Alexis Denisof’s marginal Senator. I want to watch the better show promised by the second half of last season and especially the unaired final episode. What gives here?

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Full Circle

by on Oct.02, 2009, under television

In a 1975 essay for Saturday Night, Morris Wolfe wondered,

given Sesame Street’s forty to fifty different items per hour and its assumption that children have at best a three-minute attention span, is whether one can reasonably expect a child who’s been taught the alphabet this way to focus happily on a static printed page. My guess is that the answer is no, and that what Sesame Street is doing more than anything else is conditioning kids not to read but to watch television. One study has already shown, not surprisingly, that the least popular segments on the programme are those in which books appear.

Not just to watch television, but, in the bite-sized wonder of Sesame Street’s vignettes, to watch commercials in particular. Brought to you by the letter B and the numeral 4 today, Archer Daniels Midland tomorrow. However useful irony is, it always piggybacks its overt message onto its intended subversion. The short form and the quick cut would reach adulthood and apotheosis in the launch of MTV, and stick around forever after. And Maria begat Tabitha Soren.

Upper-middle-brow television has for some years been dominated by a reverse trend — the rise of multi-season arcs, of harnessing television to tell stories that run far longer than even a trilogy of features can. In an odd twist, the current king of long-form television is a show about the rise of commercial attention fragmentation: Mad Men.

Which is just to say that this below is not only very funny,

but also kind of vertiginously ouroborean. And reminds me of this, and what someone once told me, I don’t remember who:

“All television is educational television.”

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Accent Weirdness

by on Sep.26, 2009, under television

In the season premiere of Dollhouse it was totally disorienting to hear Jamie Bamber and Alexis Denisof speak in their native accents (British and American, respectively). Dichen Lachman did a British accent for the first time, which shouldn’t be any weirder than her American since she’s Australian, but it was.

According to Alan Sepinwall the Epitaph One material was cut for time, which is a serious bummer since that’s what I was most looking forward to (especially Felicia Day). I hope that doesn’t keep up, since Epitaph One was a way better direction for the show that what it had been doing.

Also Amy Acker is apparently only around for three episodes. Sad.

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Nothing &*%!ing Happens: Against Mad Men

by on Sep.19, 2009, under television

I feel like I’ve given Mad Men a fair shot. I watched the first five or six episodes of season 1, tried a few of season 2, and have even sampled a few of season 3. But I still don’t get it.

Very little happens in Mad Men. There’s some office politics, a little adultery, a closeted gay man, the occasional kid born out of wedlock or in it. Don Draper is impersonating himself but that never seems to matter in any way other than giving him an excuse to look brooding now and again, as if he needed one. Basically humdrum lives.

So the show has to capture our interest in one of two ways: either we are convinced that the world of advertising during the early 1960s is an important subject or we are brought to care about the characters enough to get invested in their ordinary successes and failures.

Now, Mad Men does trade a great deal on its fascination with the early 1960s. In nearly every episode I’ve watched we’re put off by some reminder of how different things were then. In the most recent episode, for example, we sit with the men in the waiting room while their wives have babies. In an earlier episode, a character entertained his guests by singing in blackface. These bits nearly always invite the viewer to feel superior: we are more enlightened now.

At the same time the period is unmistakeably romanticized, especially in the person of Don Draper. To flip something I saw one character say, men want to be him, women want to sleep with him. As troubled as Jon Hamm may make his face, his life is pretty damn sweet. He sleeps with hot women, smokes without a care, has a big house that’s entirely his wife’s responsibility, and drinks during the workday. If you don’t think all of that invites envy, you’re nuts.

But neither reaction—alienation or romanticism—gives a clue as to why this period should matter to us. There are arguments one could offer about why advertising in the early 1960s is really important to understanding American culture today, but if Mad Men actually does offer them I’ve completely missed it.

Which brings us to the second possible source of interest: the characters. I can only assume that they are why a relatively small number of rich, culturally influential people love the show. Since this is a matter of taste, I can’t really argue with it. I just know that I really couldn’t care less about any of the people in the Mad Men universe. Some of them barely rise to the level of likability; most of them don’t. The majority that are unlikable are not unlikable in any interesting way, they’re just weak, venal, cowardly, or ambitious in small, conventional ways. I know that I’ve never once cared the slightest bit whether any of them got what them wanted, which for me kills the narrative interest dead.

I think that Mad Men wouldn’t bug me so much if it were recognized as a very carefully written and lovingly directed escapist fantasy that appeals to a select group of people. The fact that it’s so lionized is what gets under my skin.

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Oh God Damn It

by on Sep.08, 2009, under television

Jane Lynch was the best thing about Party Down. Admittedly there were many good things about Party Down. But Megan Mullally? Feh.

I will never forgive that stupid show Glee. I don’t care.

Via Sepinwall.

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The Problem with Weeds

by on Aug.26, 2009, under television

I’m still watching it. Yes, I’m aware it’s been no good for about the past two-and-a-half, three seasons. I’ve only finally managed to put my finger on why it’s gotten so disappointing, though. If you care, I’ll share.

The original Weeds was a sharp satire of upper-class suburbia: everyone is miserable, thieving, and desperate, and Nancy is forced to sell drugs to keep up her family’s lifestyle. But a few seasons in Nancy starts to get ambitious, tries to become a drug kingpin in her own right, and keeps falling down. Ultimately she ends up in a place where Andy can tell her, as he did this week, that she hasn’t sacrificed for her family, she has sacrificed her family, and she’s only done so because she’s so desperately afraid of being ordinary.

Now, this is definitely true, and it was satisfying to see Nancy finally held accountable for her years of bad behavior. But we’re still stuck watching the ridiculous, neverending plot arc with the Mexican drug lord/mayor of Tijuana. It would have been so much better if we could have seen Weeds take on, say, the foreclosure crisis.

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True Blood: A Dental Anatomy Complaint

by on Aug.13, 2009, under television

My father-in-law is a dentist, and my younger sister-in-law has assisted him and considered a dental career for herself. She’s also an avid SF reader and watcher. A big Buffy fan, she pays close attention to vampires.

“You know what I don’t like about the vampires on True Blood? Their fangs are in the wrong place. They should be canines, not incisors,” she told me.

By definition, fangs in mammals are canine teeth. You’ve seen ’em. Especially in canines.


They’re only slightly pointy in humans…

ama_preventive_oralhealth_lev20_theteeth_01…unless you’re a vampire. If you doubt it, just browse these realistic vampire fangs. Go on. They’re not fooling. Those are some sharp canines. (And the little animated goth store assistant is worth clicking over for.)

But the True Blood vampires have something else going on. Something different. Something never before seen:


But wait, you say: those look like kitty fangs!


Indeed, they do. And maybe that’s what inspired Alan Ball to move his vamps’ pointies one maxillary location inward. However:

It’s very common for a cat’s eight tiny incisors to fall out.  Frequently, they do this on their own over time without much of a problem, and many cats are missing most of their incisors by the time they are just 5 years old.

The cat excuse won’t fly. Look at the vamp from the True Blood pilot teaser: he’s clearly not missing his incisors. They’re his fangs.

And thus we strike a blow in favor of grounding SF in accurate dental anatomy.

(Looks like s-i-l and I are not the first to gripe.)

UPDATE: We needed to do more research. Yes, fangs in mammals are typically canine teeth, with the notable exception of the vampire bat:

Needless to say, vampires are anatomically specialized. […]  Their upper incisors and canines are large and projecting, and both Common and White-winged vampires only have one pair of upper incisors (the Hairy-legged vampire has two pairs) [pic of teeth from here]. These teeth lack enamel and are shear-like with sharp cutting edges; they appear to be kept sharp by constant contact with the smaller lower incisors and canines.

All hail the Desmodontines! Since Kaitlyn was making an evolutionary argument, it’s a point in her favor  that canine-fanged apes are our closer cousins that incisor-fanged bats. But given that existing vampire mammals use their incisors, I have to withdraw my complaint. You win this round, Alan Ball.

Also, in comments, Jake D makes a good point about the stage value of incisor fangs.

LATE UPDATE: If you found your way here via search, please check out some related fanged delights.

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