On the Shark (and over again)

At the conclusion of last season of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, I had thought there was something wrong. I wasn't entirely sure what, precisely, the mistake was, but I felt there was one going on.

I've watched all of this season's BATTLESTAR, and I'm fairly certain I didn't really enjoy almost any episode. Moments from episodes, yes, some clever bits of plotting or little twist on characterization, or whatever -- but not a whole entire episode from start to finish.

As I was was taking my shower tonight (washing my birthday suit, as Tzipora put it, har), I think I figured out what it was.

[Clearly, there's going to be SPOILERS at some point after this, and, though I haven't yet typed it, I'm fairly certain I am going to COMPLETELY SPOIL the end of this season of BATTLESTAR. Please turn away now)

After 9/11, they declared irony dead. And, I think that a lot of people, even if they didn't actually agree with that, at least understood it. The wound was too fresh, too near.

But allegory never dies, and what was that first season or two of BATTLESTAR except allegory-a-go-go?

This is the beauty thing about Science Fiction -- it can help us sort out how we feel about Today's Burning Issues, with out actually directly confronting them. Heck, a lot of the time I'm not even fully certain that SF writers fully even understand themselves what they're talking about, y'know?

Much like STAR TREK before it (in most every incarnation... well, maybe not VOYAGER), BATTLESTAR has confronted a lot of our own feelings and concerns -- mostly about war, and the inhumanity it can engender -- and it usually succeeded the best at that when it did it at right angles. How to you feel about terrorism and suicide bombing when "you" are the repressed people, that kind of thing, right?

Its a show that made you think, and made you feel, and, once it was the best show on television.

But this entire season... well it (largely) stopped being about Allegory, and stopped being about Survival, really -- and started being about the Mythology of the show instead.

From the moment that the (nearly) Final Four were revealed that's pretty much became what the show was ABOUT -- what will they do? Will they help or hinder getting to Earth? What will the other Cylons do? and so on. We've had Civil War among the Cylons, but over things largely sub rosa to the audience -- I'm not at all sure why this group went this direction and that group went that way.

And maybe that's intended as Allegory, I don't know -- certainly Iraq has broken into Civil War -- but if so it doesn't work for Four Words that are in the opening title sequence each and every week: They. Have. A. Plan. "They" implies a certain amount of collective imperative amongst the Cylons, and certainly the various factions in Iraq don't seem to have the same thing.

I've been wondering about this "plan" for a real long time, because it hasn't seemed to be in play for a while. Sure they have 12 or 16 episodes (or whatever) left to try and massage it all together, and lord knows that LOST makes it look like plan-less seasons can be hand-waved away.

At the end of the day, I'm not at all sure if I care one way or another if they find Earth on BATTLESTAR -- or who is alive or in what configuration when they get there; what I was loving was the Allegory and the Mystery of "The Plan" (Much in the same way on LOST, I could really give fuck all about Jack and Sawyer and Kate, really -- what I'm watching for is a good reason for the Polar Bears and Smokey and all of that) -- so to have episode after episode after episode this season to be not about either the Allegory OR the Mystery, but instead to be about Mythology, its lost my interest almost entirely.

See, that's the thing about Science Fiction (whether it is fantastic like STAR TREK, or mundane like X-FILES), most of the time episodes that are "about the show" fail miserably, because that isn't what we watch for. Each show is a little different, of course, some are more about the Allegory as I noted, while others really are about the Characters (think X-FILES, or maybe TWIN PEAKS?); some are about the Situation, while others are about the Science Fiction itself (something I think NEXT GENERATION tended to excel at when it was on-game), but most of the time, really, it isn't the Universe Building that makes you watch. No, in fact, Universe Building should be seamless and background and you shouldn't even realize that's what you're seeing until much later.

I can immediately think of only one partial exception to that "rule", and that's the later sections of DS9, with the Dominion War, but I think that's because 1) the novelty of Universe Building in what had previously been a very Ad Hoc Universe for 20+ years was intriguing, and 2) There was more than one TREK show on at the time, so it didn't seem like that was ALL they were doing.

So that's why I think that BATTLESTAR has "jumped the shark" -- it stopped playing to the strengths that it had, and has become about the Show Itself. As soon as the Cylons were Significant and Important Characters, it gutted much of my interest -- what was intriguing about them is they were anonymous, that they were infinitely replaceable; what kept me watching week after week was the notion that the Cylons DID have a plan, and that all of those endless scenes of Six and Baltar actually were going to add up to something interesting and coherent.

I watched the final episode (for now), and was pretty appalled, because with the revelation that Earth is dead, and everyone Cylon and Human alike being blindsided by this strongly indicates there weren't no plan, or if there was, it was a really stupid plan.

And if that's the case, then why have I been watching all along?

Plus, ugh that last episode just had a badly structured ending. I can't be the only person who, amongst all of the cheering and sobbing with joy, and all of that, thought "Um, not going to send a Raptor down or something?" and I KNEW the place was a wasteland because it just went on and on and on. That last shot of virtually every character wandering around the wreckage looking stricken and stunned was really impressive to look at (made me think of Hitchcock's ROPE, sort of), but it also made me think of, dunno, a photo shoot for a fold out in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY or something.

I want to love the show, but I think I don't really care anymore, and that makes me sad.

What do YOU think?


Dyn-ohhhhh-miiiiii... Oh, never mind: Graeme gets freebies.

The funniest thing* happened to me on the way to writing this post - I got called out by a publisher. Okay, not called out, exactly, but following my post about Savage Tales, the wonderful (and I'm not even being facetious) Joe Rybandt of Dynamite Entertainment and I ended up in an email exchange about just why I don't dig Red Sonja. Which resulted in his sending me some Dynamite books after I admitted that I don't really read them. And here's the punchline: I still don't like Red Sonja. But Battlestar Galactica? Not so bad. And The Lone Ranger? Really rather good.

When it comes to RED SONJA #21, I suddenly become a boyfriend trying desperately to get out of a relationship; it's not you, Sonja. It's me. Try as hard as I might - and I actually really did try, this time, surprisingly enough - I just don't get Red Sonja at all. I have problems reading it, literally; it's not just that the story doesn't make sense to me (Why are they fighting? Why do they all have cat heads? What's happening?), but I felt as if the typeface used for the lettering was chosen specifically to be hard to read, and the art is colored for maximum murkiness in far too many places. I'm sure that this book has its fans and that those fans have particularly good reasons to enjoy it, but for me it's almost entirely a confused Eh and no more.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA #8, meanwhile, demonstrates why TV tie-ins are problematic for series with continuity as tight as this one. It's not that this book is bad, per se - the script has moments where it catches the tone of the television series, and even an act-break with a last line that could come directly from Ron Moore himself, and the art is still a little too colorful for its source but with the occasional good likeness, especially on Sharon and Adama - but the story just feels false because its scale is too large to have been ignored by everyone during the second and third seasons. Similarly, setting this mini in the middle of the second season robs what little dramatic tension it may have - We know that everyone survives and that nothing of import can really happen, because we've seen what happens for the next year and a half. It's a weird flaw for this Okay book, and one that is semi-addressed by the upcoming "Season Zero" series, set two years before the start of the television series.

(Yes, the reader will still know what ultimately happens to the characters, but starting at an earlier point adds a couple of interesting wrinkles - The fact that we know how the characters end up works in its favor because you have the whole "How did they get like that?" question, and also, a two-year cushion is enough time to make changes with the possibility of changing things back later...)

Season Zero gets a preview in Dynamite's Free Comic Book Day special issue, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: SEASON ZERO #0/THE LONE RANGER #0. The Galactica strip is more effective than the current series, partially because it's in an unfamiliar familiar setting - we know the characters but not really, just yet - and partially because Brandon Jerwa's dialogue fits what you expect better than Greg Pak's (Not so sure about the artwork, though; too Top Cow for my liking...). It's a high Okay, but the issue is well worth picking up for the Very Good Lone Ranger short. It's not high art, but it is a well-done, fun sampler for the ongoing Ranger series - It has a damsel in distress, kids in danger, a bad guy with a glass jaw and a funny last line from Tonto, pretty much all that I'd want from a Lone Ranger comic book, and done with some very attractive art from Sergio Cariello. Convincing enough, in fact, for me to want to see what the regular book looks like. Somewhere, Joe Rybandt is claiming victory, as well he should.

Just don't try to convince me that I should try to read Red Sonja again.

* - It's not actually funny, I know.

Not comics: Hibbs on TV

Missed my last night deadline, but I got some potentially exciting news (or maybe exciting potential news... or maybe even exciting news, potentially) that focused me on that during my (ha ha) "free time" last night. So today I'm going to shoot for TWO posts -- one now, one tonight. We'll see if that works.

It’s not comics, no, but I've been wanting to make a television post for a while. Up until last year I was maybe watching 4 hours of TV a week, but I've been sucked in by the glass teat this season a lot. Modern TV is so strange -- there's almost barely things like traditional "seasons" any more; shows start and stop more or less willy nilly, it seems. And the advent of boxed set makes that a really superior way to watch a lot of shows. I'll be skipping our box set adventures (like, say THE SHIELD), for stuff I've been watching "live"

There will probably be some spoilers in here (especially on some shows, like BATTLESTAR GALACTICA), which makes this a post a number of you (= Jeff Lester) can't read... because YOU're waiting for the boxed sets. Funny.

In more or less alphabetical order, here's what I've been watching lately:

24: I really loved the first season, because the idea itself was so fresh -- "real time TV". I pretty much hated the second season, with its "we have no idea how to stretch this" scenes of Kim-in-Peril. I watched maybe 3 episodes of season 3, and decided I no longer cared. Totally skipped season 4. But something drew me back for season 5 -- maybe it was the Nukes. All of the problems the show has are still very much on display here: it is really really hard to break a story into twenty-four satisfying chunks without stretching dumb things out dumbly. We're what? halfway through this day? And my attention is flagging again. I don't think I am going to make it all the way through this season. It's been very very EH. At best.

30 ROCK: The single non-animated sitcom I watch these days, and its getting better and better with each episode, becoming more topical, and more adventurous in its storylines. I quite like it, and think it is consistently GOOD.

AMAZING RACE: Every man is allowed one thing that they KNOW is shit, and that they watch it BECAUSE its shit, and THE AMAZING RACE is my one main "I have no excuses" show. I was a real early adopter of reality shows -- *I* was the one who turned all of the CE's onto SURVIVOR, for example (stopped watching that around season 5, I think?) -- and this is my sole reality show left. It's very very not "real". Really, I'd like to see all of the extra footage where a producer has to intervene with the police; or where a contestant is delayed because the cameraman trips getting out of a car, or things like that. Still, I keep being entertained by Ugly Americans running all over creation and being the fools they can be -- I especially love how Charla and Mirna affect this weird spanish-tinged accent everytime they talk to anyone whose primary language isn't english. I do wish the show had a few more metrics as it was running -- a clock or miles traveled or something, but I can see how that would be an editing nightmare. I suppose what I like about the show is that it isn't hermetically sealed in a house or an island or something like that. There's a SENSE that "anything could happen", because there's only so much you can stage manage the WORLD. Its the one reality show that I'd like to watch a documentary about the making of it, and of what happens "backstage". Plus, watching Rob and "Ambuh" getting thier asses kicked by the midget and her idiot cousin? Pure Television gold. In any objective reality, the RACE is merely OK< but I like to fool myself that it is GOOD.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: I love this show, I really do. And, in fact, I've even got Tzipora (who HATES all things Sci-Fi or Fantasy related) hooked on it. She's a season and a half behind, because I REFUSE to buy separate 2.0 and 2.5 box sets, and the library hasn't gotten 2.5 in yet. But it is everything you want SF to be -- thought-provoking, action-packed, twisty, human-driven.

Up until a point, at least.

I'm probably one of the few people who actually went "Hm, maybe not" when they announced a full 22 eps for Season 4; because I'm pretty unconvinced at this point that they actually have more than 12-13 viable stories each season -- because, let's face it, a really significant chunk of Season 3 was "filler" that neither moved the mythology forward, nor focused on areas that I cared too much about. When the show is "on", it is ON, but when it's not? Well, it's still some of the best TV on the air, but I don't care that much.

The season finale bugged me a lot -- not just because we have to wait until January (wtf?) to find out what happens next. I was especially annoyed by the "All ALong The Watchtower" use (that's like the Steppenwolf in STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT, yeah?), and the reveal of 4 of the final 5. Especially Tigh. And that between Tyrol & Boomer and Kara & jock resistance guy (I'm blanking), there's too much Cylon-on-Cylon action going on. I'm pretty unconvinced they can make either Tyrol or Tigh "work" as Cylons, but the show has certainly given enough reason to offer them the Benefit of the Doubt. But, man, January? There are certain episodes within the season that I'd call VERY GOOD or EXCELLENT (the finale itself probably even rates a GOOD), but over all I'd give Season 3 a strong OK, which is a prodigious drop from s1 & 2.

BLACK DONNELEYS: Probably going to drop this in the next week or two. The structural conceit of this being a flashback told by an unreliable narrator is kind of grinding, and the characters are kind of all too young & pretty for me. Basically, it's (Irish) SOPRANOS Jr., and while there's an appealing denseness to the episodes (esp for network TV), I'm not finding any of the characters memorable enough to care about them as characters. Its OK, though.

THE DAILY SHOW: OUr DVR (not TiVO) via the DISH network is funny with THE DAILY SHOW -- we can't set up "record series", or it attempts to tape every broadcast of each episode. Its the only show we tape that acts like that. So, we've got to manually set the episodes each week. Fairly annoying, and sometimes I forget. A lot of time I don't watch daily -- I'll watch 2-3 at a go, but there's a lot of things to genuinely love about the show. Not only is it (usually) very very funny indeed, but I especially like the way they book authors of political or cultural books that would be lucky to break 5k copies, and give them a chance to engage in an often substantiative dialogue in front of millions of people. You don't get the sense they're booking these people because they *can't* get the a-listers, but because they truly believe its good to expose people to other points of view. So damn good for them. and damn GOOD, even at its worst no-news days, and plug-a-movie interviews.

DAYBREAK: Didn't even make its full season on the air, so I guess no one liked the GROUNDHOG'S DAY-meets-THE-FUGITIVE show. And, yeah, the execution wasn't stellar, but I liked the concept enough that I actually went and watched the unbroadcast episodes on ABC.com. Took me a while to get through them because I don't like watching TV at the computer, but all in all, I thought they did an OK job. Bonus points to ABC for actually putting the second half of the season on-line, for free. That's pretty classy, really.

HEROES: I'm ready for it to come back, already. If they can pull off the endgame as well as they handled their middle section, this is going to be one of those shows you're still talking about in 10 years. It took a while to get going, and there were definitely some stumbles in the early episodes, but, pretty much around the time we met Sylar, and the "save the cheerleader" plot got started, this became one of the most fun serialized shows on TV. Largely because they seem to have a clear end for this story planned, and it's THIS season, not strung out indefinitely like BSG or LOST (that's also what I liked about DAYBREAK). I like most of the characters (except for Mohinder, yeesh, he's the worst Prof X-type ever), and it just zips along with multiple cliffhangers, and more importantly, revelations, every issue. Based on where we're at so far, this is an easy GOOD, and, depending on how well they resolve it all, it could be VERY GOOD.

LOST: This show, on the other hand, drives me fucking bugshit crazy most weeks, where things move along glacially (if that), and the "mystery of the island" is CLEARLY being made up as it goes along. I also can't really stand most of the "others", and think the show jumped the rails when it started to be ABOUT them, rather than "our" survivors. If, next week, Locke were to find a button, and, upon pushing it all of the others seized up with black smoke pouring from their ears saying "norman, coordinate", I'd be happy with that I think. Each week this season I've been muttering, "man, I should stop wasting my time with this crap", but then I'm all whining to myself "but I've already invested 40+ hours in this, I don't want to walk away after that!" Thankfully, this week's episode, with Nikki & Paulo made me glad that I've stuck around. Yeah, it is kind of the definition of "filler", but it was nice to see seom actual suspense on the show again, and to have something introduced AND resolved in one go. Plus, all of the cameos were cool (I wonder how much of that was "leftover" footage from previous seasons, and how much was freshly shot?) -- it was basically the best episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT ever shot. I'm always a fan of ironic justice. So, most of this season: anywhere from AWFUL to OK (probably EH on the balance); this week's episode? VERY GOOD.

THE RICHES: 3 eps in, and the contrivances are starting to creak (and the sooner they resolve the Traveller boss thread, the better -- what a 2-d character and story there), but Izzard and Driver make this show very watchable, and I'm in for at least a dozen. Overall, I'll go with a GOOD.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: When I was a kid in the 70s, I would beg my parents to let me stay up late for SNL, and growing up into an adult, it's a habit at this point. There were years, decades maybe, where you could watch SNL on "Fast Forward", taking maybe 20-30 minutes to get through the whole show. This season has been markedly better though -- I'm probably up to 40-45 minutes of actual watching, and they've been taking more chances (not a lot, but some) of doing more surreal humor, or tinkering with rhythms. There also seems to be a greater emphasis on new ideas, rather than relying solely on a character being endlessly repeated into the ground. Overall, the show seems to have found a new stride this year, and while there still LOTS of not-funny, the ratio seems to e getting better. Overall: OK

THE SIMPSONS: Two weeks ago I think they reached the bottom of the bucket. The plot was Granpa marries Selma (or Patty, whatever), and that was pretty much it. No act 1 leads to a radically different act 2 leads to a radically different act 3 -- just a straight line through on a very unfunny premise, that probably should have had a laugh track attached to it. I didn't even bother to watch last week's ep. I think they may have finally cured me of this particular habit -- I'm having a hard time remembering the last genuinely funny episode I've seen. (probably last year). Very very very depressingly EH.

SOUTH PARK: When its about the kids being kids, the show is honest and often very wise... but frequently dull. I mean, lice? But when they comment of celebrity or politics or just the dopiness of mankind, it always has the potential of hitting the home run. I'm sometimes amazed just how precisely topical they can be on waht would seem to be an impossible time frame -- there's times they appear to be writing, animating, and voicing an entire show in a matter of days. SO far this season has been a bit weak (I mean, seriously, lice?), but it is never less than very very OK.

That's what I'm watching, at least. What do YOU think?


Some reviews of 1/19 stuff

I'm double-plus overbusy this week -- I haven't even finished reading this week's books! Ben's getting to be a real handful -- willful as all get out (that's my boy!), and in everything all the time. He might possibly be learning the word "no", though. We think he knows when he's doing the wrong thing, he gets this little gleam in his eye, and wags his finger at us, then goes and does whatever it was he shouldn't have been doing.

So this is why I have so little time these days. I'm desperate to get back and finish my rewrite of my novel that got put off because Ben was born -- but I just don't see HOW to get back to it while he's a little terror who is just a little too young to play by himself.

Anyway, so that's why this review thing is kinda not here this week for me.

I do want to say this: Watch BATTLESTAR GALACTICA on Sci-Fi. Really killer show. I never was a fan of the original, and I only watched the middle of the pilot last year, but Bennett got the DVD and made me watch it and the first 2 episodes of the series, and I'm damn glad he did.

God, it's nice to have some quality science fiction on the air again, after all of these barren years.

If anything it reminds me of DS9 during the dominion war. Arc based storytelling, strong characters, desperate situation. It's Ron Moore, so that's probably why.

It has flaws, yes (I don't really like the Sexy Cylon chick), and it gets notes wrong here and there, but overall, it is a terrific show, and you should jump right in. Thankfully it is Sci-Fi, so you know you'll be able to get caught up in rerun pretty fast.

As for this week's comics....within what I've manged to read this week (about 60%), I think I'll go with POWERS #8 as my PICK OF THE WEEK, not because it was an exceptional issue, but because there really wasn't much else this week. I also liked the end of BULLSEYES GREATEST HITS #5 more than I thought I would.

PICK OF THE WEAK? Probably a three-way tie between FREEDOM FORCE #1 (I already played the game -- several times in fact, it's terrific! -- who wants a literal retelling?) ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #71 (each of these team ups has stank more than the one before. I think the book has leapt the rails) and WANTED #6 (I expected something more clever than that last page. Don't know what, but I did.) But then, I didn't read a LOT of stuff, man.

The BOOK / TP OF THE WEEK easilly goes to EX MACHINA THE FIRST HUNDRED DAYS. We sold out of 7 rack copies in the first day, I was stunned!

And that, for what it is worth, is that!