Friday, December 24, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Good Character

You know what really bugs me about television shows? The characters.

That's an awfully broad statement, though, so instead I'm just going to talk about one very narrow facet of characters that bothers me: character depth degeneration.

Typically, when a show starts, the characters are silhouettes. Just outlines and possibilities. As the show goes on they reveal their personality quirks under various stresses, their histories loom, and their interactions catalyze into development and significant arcs. The quality of a character peaks at a certain point, though, usually at about four years. After that peak they revert to outlines, but they aren't possibilities anymore. Just stereotypes. Caricatures of their former selves, possessing only a fragment of their previous depth. They stop being people.

There are a number of reasons that this happens. For shows like sitcoms, writers cycle through fairly often, and there are chapbooks on each character detailing major events from their past, the previous developments are painted in broad strokes, and the rookie writer is informed of what is expected from each character. The writers aren't aware of the intricacies that go into the characters, so they don't write them as deeply, indeed, they can't.

For comedies, the characters are deliberately twisted and distorted to find new humor, to write jokes and scenarios that haven't already been covered. Usually also at this point, the show starts being terrible.

In dramas, though, character depth degeneration is usually caused by a regime change in the writing room. See, dramas depend on character interaction, so they tend to have better developed characters in the first  place. The change also is subtler, as a change in head writer doesn't usually happen with someone completely new to the writing team. The new leader is aware of some, if not all, of the previous canon, so it's not as much a change in character depth that we see as it is a change in the writing style.

Which itself causes a degeneration of character depth because the new writer emphasizes different traits, and they can't change the stuff they don't like, so they just write it less or not at all and lo! We have a shallower character.

I was thinking about this tonight because I just finished watching the latest episode of the only show I follow regularly: Criminal Minds. It occured to me last week and again today that the writing has taken a significant dive on this show. It's still good and the overall quality of the show is fantastic, but the writing this season has been lackluster. I worried at first that the head writer, Jeff Davis, had been replaced or hadn't been on the team for most of this season for some reason, but a swift look on IMDB told me that he's been on this season, he just hasn't written for the show since the middle of November (Into the Woods, for those who are interested. Great episode).

I don't know if the drop in quality this season is exhaustion or if Davis has had a lesser role in the writing of the scripts, but the writing is definately what's lacking. Know how I know?

There's a new character.

And it's a girl.

I'd given up on interesting recurring characters this season because JJ was written out (hastily, and badly) due to meta budget cuts, but now they've written in this new girl, a cadet, and I thought (hoped) last week that she'd be a one-off character that we wouldn't see again for awhile, but the writers contrived (so contrived) to bring her back, and I fear she'll stick around. She also had not one, but two subplots set up, in a show that largely minimalizes subplots, in her first episode. Her entire character in her first episode was that of The Girl With a Dark and Victimized Past. She cried a lot. It was awful.

So between the less-than-stellar writing, the change in style, and the new and stereotyped character, I think it's safe to say that they show is on the decline and we can only hope that it dies with dignity. Which is fine, it's had a perfectly respectable run.

But the writing of the characters is always the first herald of doom, and Criminal Minds has given me a great example to show you.

And that is why I hate characters.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Hey, I know this is a bit of a radical concept, but how about a review?

I toyed with this one for a while. I wanted so much to be done with it and move on to The Vampire Diaries, but I didn't want to sink eight hours of my life into slides for the damn thing. I considered doing a live-action video review because that'd take substantially less time and still be a video. But then I decided that that was, in fact, a stupid idea. So for the sake of my own sanity, and to get this thing the Hell off of my to-do list, here you go.

The script to The Video That Wasn't: Skins

Okay, kids, confession time. I only made it through the first season of Skins. That’s nine episodes. Doesn’t seem like a lot, I know. But my first impressions after watching the first five episodes were so not good that I didn’t go back to it for almost a week, so even if I hadn’t decided not to watch past the first season, I wouldn’t have been able to anyway. But Skins, yeah.

I’m not really sure why Skins exists. It seems to fall into the same bizarre bracket of entertainment as those coming-of-age movies from the eighties, and similarly, I haven’t the foggiest idea what the plot is. There really doesn’t seem to be much of one, and every time I was asked what I’m watching this week I had to try to force some semblance of coherence out of the mangled mess of character interactions that define the show. Even in the pilot, the episode that is expected to attract the bulk of the initial interest, the first thirteen minutes was character introduction, and even then, the plot that I was introduced to was subverted, then abandoned, then revised, then abandoned again, in the same episode.

Also, the episodes don’t relate to each other, even when they should. There’s nothing wrong with a show that’s purely episodic with no connective plot threads, but when a main character attempts suicide in a dramatic fashion, I expect the next episode to contain at least a mention of it! Instead, I wait an episode and a half before there’s a single line telling me what the Hell happened! Even then, it’s a single line that, in the grand scheme of things, was clearly inserted to, ah, resolve, that plot line. It looked badly patched, as, in fact, it was.

Further, the writers’ grasp of foreshadowing is… okay.  It’s like there was a production meeting and one writer said to another, “Hey, things are getting kind of predictable, what can we do about that?” and the other replied “Hey, let’s have an episode set in Russia for reasons that we won’t adequately explain?” or “Let’s give Angie a fiancĂ© who’ll arrive out of nowhere at an inconvenient time!” It’s appalling.

Skins really reminds me of a sitcom. All the characters are interesting, though predictable. They interact improbably, and anyone who’s not a protagonist is portrayed as an obstacle rather than as a person to a ridiculous degree. In this show the obstacles are parents and most of the teachers, which backfires pretty frequently in the beginning by disrupting my suspension of disbelief. It makes it difficult to sympathize with anyone when everyone’s a cartoon character.

The writing is appalling. It’s truly difficult to listen to. It seems as though the writers were trying too hard to write how people actually speak. Well, they overshot the mark. These characters stammer and repeat themselves, they have terrible diction, and they speak in so fragmented a fashion that I found it difficult sometimes to ponder out their intentions, though that was in significant part the accent and the vernacular. It did get easier to follow the longer I watched, so it’s probably a failing of my being American. Got to admit, though, it seems that the British vernacular contains far more interesting curses than the American does.

Apparently the producers keep the writers of Skins fairly young in an effort to make it more realistic and connect well with the target audience. The problem with that is that if you’re writing for an internationally broadcast television show by the time you’re sixteen, you’re probably not a great barometer of normalcy.

For a show that thinks it’s a comedy, it’s very unfunny. There would be brief, sparkling moments of humor, but they were so brief that by the time I’d thought to laugh, they were gone. The effort typically seems to be a bait-and-switch, where the writers use the levity of the joke to create a stronger contrast and therefore greater effect for a dramatic event. It doesn’t work. Ever.

The characters (and here I’m speaking of the protagonists), are wonderful. They are unique individuals with their own interests. Their interplay and changing dynamic is unfailingly interesting. That said, the acting and direction kept them from being sympathetic until the episode preceding the finale. Prior to that the only character I was invested in was Sid. Cassie held my interest briefly, but the writers used her as a tease and a cheap catalyst, so I lost that interest quickly.

As a whole, the characters (quality and sympathy aside) are disbelief-breaking. They’re all from shockingly dysfunctional families, which seems not only unlikely, but also a cheap way to attempt to drag some actual life out of them. Every time something came up that got me to expect an image of family life that I can sympathize with, the writers and directors took it too far and I was again disappointed.

The acting is great. I know, that sounds like a contradiction, so hold on a bit and I’ll explain myself; the quality of the acting is fantastic, it just doesn’t work. The actors and their personal styles clash with the style of the show, and the dissonance is not just jarring, it’s amateur-ish. The exceptions are, again, Sid and Cassie. Who, I think I can safely say, are wonderful from start to finish.

As for technicals, the only note I took the time to make was on the camera work. “Unfailingly competent.” I mean the structure of the show doesn’t allow for a whole lot of brilliance. They do some interesting tricks, but that’s what they are, and that’s what they look like: tricks. Nothing innovative or fantastic anywhere in sight.

All of that said, there was a meta-break in the show that deserves mention, kudos, and a ticker-tape parade, and that’s director Adam Smith. Remember how I found the first five episodes so distasteful that I decided not to watch too much more? Well, then I watched episode eight. And damn. The writing was still shit, but the direction was fan-fucking-tastic. Suddenly the characters had more depth, the actors performed better, the plot (such as it was) was gripping, and the atmosphere was fantastic. And the only thing that had changed was the director. He directed four episodes, all of them in season one, and they were the best thing about that season. Even before ep8 I had picked his episodes as the better ones, and to have the improvement confirmed (by the ever-trustworthy internet) as the work of a single person was incredibly gratifying.

No matter how good the rest of it is, though, the writing is still awful. There are episodes with legitimate drama and character development that are killed by the dialogue, and moments of dialogue that are rhythmic and witty but are killed by the delivery and context.

The main selling point of the show is the sex, but upon even a cursory glance the sex is a cheap gimmick. It’s filler (so to speak), and the writers keep returning to it in a blatant attempt to keep audience attention, completely disregarding the fact that boobs are endlessly interesting, but boobs on television get old quick.

Kind of like this whole show.

Maybe it got better after the first season, but the first season is all a show has to sell me on, and that certainly wasn’t up to par.

Bottom line: Follow Adam Smith, Mike Bailey, and Hannah Murray. Nothing else about the show is worth more than a mocking quip.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Totally Unrelated Comic

I know! I'll get back to reviews in a bit, but I rather enjoy making these "I Can't Draw For Shit" comics, and this is my blog-thing, so I make the rules.


Based on an actual occurrence today, and thanks to Zack for the punchline.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

'Nother Quickie

No reviews today. I plan to work a little on Skins today after I wake up.

For now, here's a little something I drew in the middle of the night:


Monday, November 29, 2010


Sorry I haven't written for awhile, kids. I've been working on this.

I promise, promise, once the store gets up and running I'll finish the script for Skins and post it here, mostly because I don't remember enough to make decent images. The script is possible only through extensive use of my notes.

In the meantime, check this guy out. Go on.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Articles of Quality

Okay, first of all, go read this. Seriously, go. This whole post is centered on that article, it's not that long, so I'll wait.

You done? Good.

I have some basic complaints about this article (aside from the pretentiously proprietary, "Hey that's my thing"). First of all, it's terribly written, with a thesis statement that isn't supported by the body of the article. Secondly, if LOST is the only example of deep, thought-provoking television that the author could come up with, perhaps she's not anything close the the authority she writes like she is. I mean, what about Studio 60? Babylon 5? Soap?

Deeper than that, though:
Sure, there are some astounding clunkers, but television is getting better and better. Writing is more compelling, better actors are becoming attached to televised projects.
What? Tell me, do you watch anything that's actually on, or do you only Netflix dead shows? Writing is not getting better in television. It's exactly the same as in any other medium: Primarily competent but bland with a few sparkling gems that stand out from the mire. And since Aaron Sorkin has departed from television for awhile with no return in sight, JMS is doing Superman (correct me if I'm wrong on that one), Joss Whedon's busy with the Avengers and Cap,  Andrew Marlowe's doing Castle (one of the aforementioned gems), and... no other great TV writers spring to mind.

Which means that we're left with Glee and (shudder) CSI.

What about that "better actors" comment?

Anyone who doesn't know who Richard Mulligan is should be ashamed of themselves. And from the same show, Robert Guillaume. From other great shows: Andreas Katsulos, Peter Jurasik, Alan Tudyk, Ed Wasser, Jewel Staite, Katheryn Helmond, Bradley Whitford, Matthew Perry (I'm forgiving him for Friends), Timothy Busfield, Thomas Gibson, Stana Katic, Emily Proctor (I don't forgive her for CSI: Miami, though), Richard Schiff, Dule Hill, Kathryn Joosten, Paul Gross, Nathan Fillion, Kelsey Grammer, Neil Patrick Harris, John Larroquette, John Lithgow, French Stewart, Robert Carlyle, Michael C. Hall. I'm sure there are more that I missed, but I think my point has been made.

The acting is as good now as it ever has been, the writing is the same. The trick is that most of everything is crap. Sturgeon's Law. It's not that the television is getting better, it's that there's so much more of it that it's easier to find the good stuff.

Television won't just "get better." Sorry, but it won't. As with any other medium, it's only as good as the people in it, and the people who pay attention to it. I can agree that television has been sidelined as an entertainment medium. I can't agree with... anything else in that article.

How will TV get better? Simple. We need to have higher expectations. There should be no "good enough," no "well, it's only a sitcom," no acceptance of the mediocre.

It can be better. But it always starts with the audience, and that, kids, is you.

-Gets off soapbox-

Monday, November 15, 2010

From the Audience

The entire time I was watching the video the two contrasting thoughts of "This is like reading the comments on the internet" and "And what exactly makes you better than the people who works their asses off on BN" crossed my mind alot.
--Dude Man
Fair point. In fact, I'm actually shocked that I didn't get this sooner. Now, it wasn't phrased as a question, more as an accusation, but I'm going to assume that this guy has the balls to ask me to my virtual face and just missed all of my contact information.

Short version? I worked for a few weeks shy of a decade in theatre. Not just any theatre; live theatre. I know, I know, live theatre, and television shows are very different, blah blah blah.

Shut up, because actually, they are very similar, but I'll get to that in a moment.

Long version: I mostly worked in technical, which means that I designed and built sets, I painted, I worked make-up and effects, I hung lights and did some basic sound engineering. It also means that I saw a lot of shows. I got to see what playing the same character night after night does to the performance, I saw what it does to the actors. I learned to differentiate between the acting and the directing and the producing. I know what jobs belong to which people.

I also did some acting (I'm not saying that I was ever good), so I know what it's like to form a character (knowledge bolstered by my years and years of playing D&D) I know how direction gets adapted by the actor, and I can totally sympathise with playing that same character night after night after night.

Also, I went to college for theatre. When I went to college. You know, before I moved half-way across the country and opened a gaming store. So I know things like color theory. I can date molding and wallpaper by the patterns. I can design and create costumes. I can light a set, I can run live-mics for a cast of forty by myself (but those were dark times). I can build a rig for pretty much anything. I'm aware of budget constraints, and what tends to get cut first. I know how to write a script, and I can identify script-writing techniques, as well as more general literary techniques like foreshadowing and symbolism (thanks primarily to the greatest English teacher evar: Mrs. K).

So, how are live theatre and television similar? Well, for a start theres the run. For a movie there's a set amount of material that needs to be acted, teched, and filmed, and that's it. For a television show, there's not only considerably more material, but everything about the show needs to be sustainable. It needs to be reused; everything from the characters to the sets to the lighting models to the rigs cannot be one-time-use, or even until-we-get-the-shot-use. In theatre, while the show stays the same, it does happen over, and over, and over. Some shows run longer than others, but I've worked everything from six-show community theatres to thirty-show tours, and the stress and the deadlines and the weariness from doing the same thing grates on a person. Similarly, there's the stress of doing the same thing.... but different. Adapting to different venues is a bitch and a half. In short, the amount of change that's expected and allowed is almost identical between live theatre and televison, and the same techniques for most everything to do with the production translate easily from one to another (the exception is acting. Watch the pilot for Babylon 5 and understand what I mean what I say, "You're used to a stage, get used to a soundstage for the love of all that's holy!").

My greatest strength has always been tech (which I'm simplistically defining here as "everything that's not the acting or actors"), and my reviews reflect that. I get sidetracked by things like lighting and sets because that's what I'm familiar with. That's what I'm most comfortable judging.

And that, kids, is what qualifies me to pick on television shows. Well, that and I really, really like them and would like to see them improve as an artistic and expressive medium.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Feeding the Trolls

First of all, to those that care, I did not do well in the video contest. Three contracts were given out, none of them were to me, and I was granted the consolation prize of an Honorable Mention... me and thirteen other videos.

Yeah, I'm disappointed, but no more than I am when a video doesn't do well. I'm also disappointed that I won't be able to redo the video like I'd wanted with more time, and more breathing.

Here's what really upset me, though:

God, I'm so glad this didnt get picked up. Shes trying so hard to be ZP by deliberately nitpicking apart a wildly popular show. YOUR personality seems bland and uninspired. So please, whatever your name is. DO NOT I repeat, DO NOT QUIT YOUR DAY JOB. But you probably suck at that too.

Yeah. I got another troll.

I kind of love trolls in that yo-yo-ey way of being simply delighted that they've offered themselves for the stomping, but utterly crushed that they're simple enough to try to get a rise out of me.

Oh well, these days I must take my fun where I can find it.

I'll post my reply to him at the bottom, and you're welcome to check out the thread and see for yourselves, but right now I'm not going to go into the conversation and battle o' wits (such as it was). I'm more interested in the idea of trolling.

I mean, really? What the fuck?

When did basic manners become optional? Why do people go out of their way to malign the characters of people they don't know? I mean, I run my  mouth off on the internet all the time, but I try to stay polite. Even when I'm being mean I'm generally polite.

That basic conversational skill, the ability to say what you mean with manners and a smile, is increasingly rare these days, and I have to say, I miss it. You can say that it's two-faced. You can tell me that "being real" is more important. But we're all secretly delighted when someone puts someone else in their place with grace and charm. How about this exchange:

"It's not as good [a party] as last year."
"Yeah? What'd they have last year?"
 Shindig, Firefly
Bitchy right? But still, we laughed at that line even as we winced at Kaylee's discomfort, sympathizing with that feeling of being out of our depth. And we laughed even harder at the follow-up line, which did the same thing, but not to a protagonist:

"It must have taken a dozen slaves a dozen days to get you into that dress. Though from what your daddy tells me, it takes the space of a schoolboy's wink  to get you out of it."

I mean, burn. And here we mark the line between "nice" and "polite." Neither of those examples were in any way rude. They refer only obliquely to the issues at hand, but at the same time, allow both parties to keep face (if they choose) while drawing that "Don't Fuck With Me," line pretty clearly in the sand.

This is a lost art. It's easy to pick out in media, but how often does it happen in real life? Well, almost never. The art of conversation is pretty far into its decline, and the art of banter has followed in lockstep.

Which means that when people (especially people with the anonymity buffer of the internet) encounter something they don't like, they have only the skills to express their discontent in the most crass and yet banal of terms. In other words, they get mean and rude instead of one or the other.

I really don't know why this started. I could blame any of a dozen things, but any of them would be a cheap shot. I do know why it continues, though: We let it. We allow ourselves to insulate ourselves with that layer of pixels and data, never interacting with the people we speak to. We don't let ourselves view them as people. And if they're not people, they're expendable. They're just a name and an opinion on the other side of the internet, so we don't have to be polite to them.

I'm not going to pass judgment on that idea; I think you know pretty well where my opinions lie on the matter.

I would, however, like to pose a question. You don't have to answer me, but think about it.

Who is it "okay" for you to be rude to? Why?

I was okay with the negative comments. I put up with the comparisons. I waded through the shallowness and mire that is the general public to put something I cared about up for inspection by the unpleasable peanut gallery. Well and good, but now, dude, you've crossed the line. 
You can insult me, you can insult my critiques, fine. When you ascribe to me petty motivations, and a general ineptitude, though, I take some offense. 
As for my day job? I own a gaming store. I balance the professional and the geeky and handle people and companies regularly. I manage hard feelings and embarrassment, the shy, the outcast, and the forlorn. I run a nexus of asocial people at an intrinsically social activity. THAT is what I do with most of my time, and I wouldn't stop for the world. 
I make these videos in my spare time. I make them. I put my heart and my time and my skills into something that I actually care about. I didn't make this video for the contest. I didn't do it for the contract. I did it to express an opinion, to lend some credence to the idea that what is popular is not always good, and that a good concept does not good entertainment make. I did it because television is something that gets sidelined in terms of quality and effort, and I object to that. 
My name is Sharon. I'm the Opinionated Critic.
Tell me, who are you?
Happy watching, ya'll.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

From the Audience

You know what? Even if I don't win the contest, I've gotten some great exposure from this. I've gotten more comments and emails in the past week than I've gotten from the last three months before that. Most of them aren't worth sifting through, but let's pick out some relevant ones, shall we?

These revives share a few points with Zero Punctuation and works as well even thou the visuals could defiantly be experimented with a bit.

 Just modify the visual style; it's too similar to Bob's or Yahtzee's.

Good points made but need to change animation style. 

I'm not going to get into the ZPish style either, but you may want to mix it up if they hire you.

Perhaps a little change in the presentation. 
--Mr. Omega 

How to put this politely... No. I will not change my presentation. I will not change the way I make these videos. Perhaps if Burn Notice had been my first review, I would, but three months in my style is pretty well established and changing it would not only be difficult, it would create a buffer period of crappy videos while I get my feet under me again. Sorry kids, but I ain't changing now.

And here's something that my harshest critics don't seem to take into account: How very difficult is it for someone to consistently rip off someone else? For those of you that don't know: Very. Once you become comfortable with a style, your own starts to leak in. It happens to everyone who imitates someone else. Hell, it happens to actors on TV shows all the time! On the long-running ones, there might be an episode with a less-strong-than-usual director, and a character or two might inflect or react minorly out of character. It's usually not the actors fault, it's just that there's only so long you can keep something compartmentalized.

And the point of that story was that even if I had started out as a Yahtzee rip-off, the fact that I've consistently produce Yahtzee-like work just means that our styles are similar anyway. So I won't change it. And if you ask again, I'll probably smirk at you.

Which you totally can't see, but trust me, I shall.

While overall I was impressed, my only concern is with regards to doing something like a weekly episode.  Currently, it's easy for both Bob Chipman and Ben Croshaw to review their respective media because there is always new content coming out during the year.  The question I pose is whether or not you would review new shows only, shows that have a couple seasons under their belt, or a mix up of both.  Typically the Escapist reviews "what's hot", so my personal curiosity begs me to ask you.
--Cody D.
I gotta say, I loved getting this email. It was polite and grammatically correct, and something about the formal tone just tickled me. Like those times I look at my life and say "I'm really happy that I've cleaned carpets today... I must be an adult." The idea that people can treat me and my work so seriously is massively entertaining and flattering at the same time.

To answer the actual question, though: I want to do primarily current shows, though I have, and will continue to do so, done dead shows. Most of the time these are relevant reviews, which means giving an opinion on something current, however sometimes I need to illustrate a point, or demonstrate some quality in TV, or there's something in the show that I've spoken on before and wanted to critique in a different environment.

Plus, according to my rules, I can review web serieses and miniseries, so I shouldn't lack for material. And shows that have been running for a while would need to be broken up according to how much I can watch in a given week, and, if I can manage it, by internal segmentation of the show.

And then there's the things that'd be marathons. Like if I ever have to review CSI. And someone's requested Law and Order. Things that have spin-offs will be done next to each other, hopefully in the order in which they were started so as to trace the evolution better.

So yeah. Run out of stuff to review? Probably not.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

More Burn Notice

Sorry not to have anything new for ya'll. Partly it's that my review schedule has been shelved for a month or so, and partly it's that Burn Notice is just so bad that I still have a metric fuck-ton of stuff to talk about. And the topic of the day is... execution.

See, Michael Westen spends a lot of time talking about "When you're a spy," and "When you're a covert operative," and "If you work in the information industry," but he's not really a great spy. In fact, he's a horrid spy. A spy needs to be able to talk to anyone and everyone. Micheal Westen can only talk to the bad guys. In a room with the client or victim, he's invariably cold and distant, and visibly makes the characters uncomfortable. You'd think that a guy who's a jerk on the outside but secretly cares for children and puppies would be more invested in that whole "reassuring people" thing.

Further, Sam Axe, who's introduced as an "Ex-Spy" but later is retconned to "Ex-SeAL," can talk to people. He makes friends with everyone and easily comforts clients and victims alike. He can befriend anyone in minutes to the point of them lending him their stuff. Expensive stuff. Cars, for example. Further, in the three seasons that I watched Sam was the only one who shot anyone. He also did some pretty impressive sniping on a couple of occasions, including dealing a fatal abdomen shot on a guy with 3/4 cover, and one-shotting a surveillance camera from across the four-lane street and two floors up (twice).

(Not quite true. Micheal did shoot that one guy who's name I can't remember. That Agent to the Spies guy. But that was because AttS sold out Micheal's twoo wuv, so I really can't count it. It also wasn't an impressive shot. Fast, yes, but he shot the guy from fifteen feet away with a pistol. Some things should be epic, and the first time the protagonist kills someone directly is one of them. Also, that whole scene was shot and scored and lit like it was something epic, but the writing and the acting made it more melodramatic than moving. Say it with me guys: /epicfail.)

Also, The Girl. Good lord does she irk me. To start out with, she's really not that great looking, but the show treats her like she's a world-class beauty (before you ask, yes I did get the opinion of people who like women on this one. There was some discussion over whether the excessive muscles were scary or hot, but no-one said that she was a beautiful as the show and everyone in it seems to think). Also, for someone who's said to be a slightly psychotic, trigger-happy, gun-dealing, ex IRA guerrilla, she's surprisingly level-headed and tame. Yes, she talks about blowing shit up left and right, but someone with the character we're repeatedly told she has would have gone solo and blown up a bunch more shit than she actually does. Maybe it's the leash her twoo wuv has her on, but she's surprisingly open to reason and logic. Also, as you may have gathered, she doesn't ever shoot anyone. The show makes her out to be this amazing marksman, but she's the one that gets to miss things.

Yes, I know, the voice-over tells us at one point that it takes great skill to miss someone while making it look like you're trying to hit them. But if we've seen her hit anyone before, it's still an informed trait. That's the thing about extreme skill, and it's the reason that trick horse riders generally start out straddling the saddle like anyone else. Starting with the basics actually makes the exceptional more believable. It shows the range of skill that's required to impress the audience.

At one point (during the Great Sam Rescue at the end of season one), Fiona's got a sniper rifle and a great vantage point on Sam's captors and instead of sniping them off, she provides cover fire. With a sniper rifle.

Head? Meet Desk. I know you two will meet often and I hope you will become good friends.

So... yeah. I hope that clarifies some of my gripes on the characters. If not, feel free to ask questions here or send me an email.

Also: "Hell, I never even paid enough attention to the joiners to see all the bikinis, and yet we use that as an example of why the show was "atrocious." Criticizing that just makes you sound girl who is probably jealous of others in a swim suit and finding it borderline offensive." -- Sigma

I said the show was an abomination. I never said it was "atrocious," so you're kind of missing the point of "" there, bud.

And also? LOL.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Okay, this has come up before, but I've gotten it a bit more angrily today, and I think it bears addressing.

I am not Yahtzee. I am not trying to imitate Yahtzee, and I am not "ripping off" Yahtzee.

Superficially, yes, there's quite a bit of resemblance. We use the slide-show style videos, speak rather quickly, and tend to be harsh on out topics.

However, there are things that make Zero Punctuation, Zero Punctuation, and those defining characteristics are absent from my videos. Similarly, I do have my own style. I write and speak differently, and I animate differently. The art style, media that's critiqued, and judgments are different.

He uses extended analogies. I don't. He uses a considerable amount of profanity. I don't. He anthropomorphizes everything. I don't.

I spoke quickly on my submission video because I had a lot to say. There's nothing to read into there. There was no intention to copy or rip-off, and I really don't think that I did. In fact, throughout my reviews, I've worked rather hard to keep from pulling too much from any one source of inspiration (and there are several).

In summary. The videos and the reviews are me. They're not me trying to be someone or something else. Anyone who knows me can see my fingerprints all over these videos, and the majority of my viewers (though they don't know me personally) are, I think, discerning enough to see past the superficial resemblance.

I shall say no more on the subject, but I've broken it down for you here. For the love of whatever you consider holy, please do not accuse me of ripping off Yahtzee, or ZP again. It's not true, and no amount of fanboy indignation will make it so.

The Escapist Film Festival

No time for extensive rambling right now, but the video gallery for the film competition I entered my Burn Notice review into is here. Go vote!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Not Like the Rest

What is it that makes a show good?

This is a question that I've spent some time thinking on, partly because I get into extended debates with my brother about my reviews, and partly because ultimately I need to decide whether or not to recommend a show.

Nothing kills a show faster than bad writing. Even great actors can't save bad writing (after all, there's only so many ways to deliver a campy line, and most of them are equally campy), and, in dialogue-heavy shows, the writing is key to pacing and character development. There is an incredible difference between shows that are "people talking" (The West Wing), and shows that are "just people talking" (Law and Order, and anything that aspires to be a Sorkin show).

There's also a delicate balance between Good Writing Technique, and Writing How People Actually Talk. And that is how Joss Whedon manages to pass as a great writer: He writes really well, even though he has no technique, because he understands the way people speak. This is something the Coen brothers do really well, too, they remember that, though a script is written, it isn't meant to be read. It's meant to be listened to.

Patchy writing is actually worse than writing that is out-and-out bad. It happens pretty frequently in Burn Notice in particular. The writing would be competent and competent, and competent, and then horrific, and that awful line is the worse for having come directly after something passable. Similarly, the writing would be competent and then there'd be a single shining moment of greatness that I couldn't believe had actually happened because the rest of the show had been nowhere near that caliber. It wasn't a relief that something good had happened, on the contrary, it was disappointing that the rest of the show couldn't be that good.

Even if the rest of the show is hands-down fantastic, bad, or at least, not as good, writing can kill it quick. It's the contrast that does it in this case: When most of the show is fine, bad writing sticks out. Glee is the one that stands out in my mind for this one; most of the show isn't really that bad (concept, insensitivity, and rampant misogyny aside), but the writing brings it way down.

It doesn't work the other way, too, though. Great writing in a terrible show will always be memorable. The line is always, "Well the show sucked, but the writing was good." This is also the reason I didn't like The Big Lebowski, but I didn't hate it either. What I said, precisely, was, "I don't know what that was, but it was well-done." Had the writing been terrible (or, "Had the Coen brothers not been the ones to make it."), I have no doubt that I would have despised it like I hate... well.... most movies.

So writing is key to making a show good. Everything else can be highly annoying, but forgiven (unless we're talking about the level of Stoopid Camera Trix of Burn Notice, that's unforgivable) eventually. Cinematography, if truly terrible, can be detrimental, but isn't usually egregious. Really, the other major part of What Makes a Good Show is the experience.

For I while I had this boiled down to the question, "Is it fun to watch?" but that doesn't really cover it. Some shows aren't meant to be "fun." So that question has been revised to, "Is it an experience?" If a show can elicit a genuine emotion from me every (or even most of the) time it tries, it's a great show. That's something that was great about Studio 60; it could pull an emotion from me every time. I feel the pressure of the deadline, the anticipation of going onstage, the satisfaction of a job well done. Those are much harder to pull from an audience than simple happiness, laughter, or indignation, and Sorkin does it effortlessly. The West Wing was similar, but it was also a real thinker of a show. Studio 60 was %100 emotional involvement from start to finish.

So there you go. How do I decide what to recommend? Is it well written? And if so, does it make me feel something? If I answer "yes" to both, then it's definitely worth watching.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Contest Update

So I wrote this great script and made a shit-ton of images for it and then I recorded it and started editing out things like where I stammered and where I was breathing and saw that it was in no way going to be short enough.

That was an awful sentence, and I apologize for it.

Point is, I edited out two hundred fifty words, and I hope it shall be short enough now. If not I'm going to stick my head in a bucket of fire and then try again. Maybe it won't seem like such a difficulty if I'm coming off of the bucket of fire, you see.

BUT! I just have an hour and a half of work left to put into this (providing the time continuum works to my benefit. It may not), and then I shall be done! And when I'm done I can work on my costume for the Halloween event, and I still have a build list to make, and get my tools from Kansas (don't ask. It's not pretty).

I know this is a really boring post and everything, but sadly I have other things to do than watch television and write about it. Things like.... a totally awesome Munchkin party on Halloween that anyone who's in the Portland area should totally come to because my pastry chef is baking for it. Things like... pumpkin whoopie pies. And chocolate cake balls.

Next time: Why a single great thing in a television show can't possible save it, no matter how awesome that thing is.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Burn Notice

There's something about That Show that's been bothering me since I learned it. It really doesn't have a whole lot to do with the actual quality of the show, but it's been bugging me.

Apparently the producers let Gabrielle Anwar choose most of her own costumes.

That may not sound like such a bad thing, I mean, the actress should know her character better than anyone else right? Well yes, but that doesn't make it okay.

There's a lot that goes into costuming that I, with eight years of experience in technical theatre, had no notion of until I took a class devoted to costumes. It's not ever just about "what the character would wear." In fact, "what the character would wear" is generally considered after fabric choice, color, style, scenography, and whether she can fight in those shoes. Once everything has been hashed out, then they look at "what the character would wear" from what's left.

The result of Anwar picking her wardrobe? An insufferable amount of short, ugly-ass dresses in a limited color palette that's totally inappropriate for her coloring, and no bras. I can't stress enough how much I'm bothered by the lack of bra. For someone who might have to get into a fist fight on moment's notice, bras are awesomely practical.

And the wedge heels. Good Gods. First off, high heels in combat is downright stupid. Breaking an ankle fighting, or at the very least twisting one, is shockingly easy. Heels throw off your posture and balance and make combat almost impossible unless you already outweigh and outreach your opponent by a significant margin, which is unlikely if only because there's not a whole lot of men or orangutans who wear heels. Then there's wedge heels, which are actually more awkward than ordinary spike heels. They're worse for balance and leverage.

So then why does Fiona wear them? Because the actress who picked them out likes them.

What a bullshit reason. Actors act. Costumers dress. Seems like a pretty straightforward division of labor to me, but then here I go again, expecting people to do their jobs competently. The actress stepped out of bounds, the producers allowed it, and the costumer didn't fight back.

I'm having some serious trouble expressing just how much I'm bothered by this, so discuss among yourselves: Does an actor have the right to choose their own costumes in a show where physical limits must be observed for safety reasons? Or indeed, should an actor be able to say anything to a costumer other than, "Excuse me, but I tore out the underarm tossing the baddie into a wall, can you do something about that please?" in the politest and most obsequious of tones?

Edit to add: Also, the store is opening on December first, and the lease starts of November first, so I will in no way be attempting to keep up with my review schedule. I'll still work on them, but slower. Especially as Burn Notice must be submitted by October twenty-ninth, so it's a priority.

Also, one week until Monthly Munchkin!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Burn Notice

Not a shit-ton of time before I either die or watch Skins (whichever comes first), but I finished writing Burn Notice, and I know for a fact that there's something that won't make it in to the video. So here you go.

Things Discussed Rather Than Watch Burn Notice
Fruit (just the names of fruit, not the fruit itself)
The Greek Pantheon
Pope Jokes
Tim Curry
Demotivational Posters
Halloween Decorations

Sunday, October 17, 2010

'Nother Quickie

I'm bout's'ta go pass out for a bit, but here's the review on White Collar.

More when I'm capable of cogent thought.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

From the Audience

Don't judge me, I've got a Halloween event to plan, so no Philosophy of Entertainment today.

Interesting. It felt like you were mostly nitpicking, but the only thing I really disagree with is the rewatch value. I love Dr Horrible and rewatch it more or less fortnightly.
Also yes a thousand times about the ending.
--Darth IB 

Well, I was nitpicking. There's only so much I can say about a great and entertaining show. There are always problems, but sometime they're big enough that I don't have to nitpick. With Dr. HSAB, I did. I needed to fill out seven minutes, and even then I just barely made it.

One of the things I didn't understand were the complaints about the characterisation...It's a pretty short series and they can't go into every detail of the characters, which is not necessary to get an idea about their personnalities.

It's not that they were badly characterized, far from it. In fact, The Girl was the only one that was badly characterized, and she only suffered because she was built to contrast two completely different characters. The problem that I have with the characterization is really a problem with Joss Whedon's characterization. Which is to say, he's terrible at it. He can create these characters with fascinating backgrounds and wonderful motivations, but then once the show starts, they are all the same. Yes, there are informed differences, but that's a case of Told Not Shown.

Before the Whedon fanboys light me on fire, I enjoy most of Whedon's work. The only thing he writes well is banter, but he has a distinct, interesting style. He likes to play with words and sentance structure, and he has great ideas. That said, I find his work to be empty entertainment sprinkled with valid themes and the occasional thought-provoking segment, and that is why I watched it. The whole reason I watched all five seasons of Angel was because once or twice a season, I encountered something that required some thought, and that doesn't happen often enough.

As a side note: If Joss Whedon wrote the banter, Aaron Sorkin wrote the other dialogue and characters, and JMS wrote plots, would that not be the greatest-written show ever? Seriously, y'all, it'd be fan-fucking-tastic.

In other news, White Collar goes up on Sunday (if I finish the slides. It's looking like sleep is optional this week), and after that, Skins. And may I say, I'm totally doing something that looks good after that, because I've been putting off watching Skins with things like sorting rocks, cleaning my room, and lease agreements.

In other, other news, anyone who's in the Portland (Oregon. The only Portland that matters) and wants to come to the Halloween party that my gaming store is totally sponsoring should email me at opinionatedtvATyahooDOTcom, and I will send them an address and specifics. There's going to be a costume contest for a gaming prize pack worth $100 that includes a set of opal dice, Munchkin Bites, and a setting book whose name I've forgotten, but which is totally awesome. My business partner who's a pastry chef is making some pumpkin whoopie pies and chocolate cake balls for concessions (to go with the usual concession-fare), and if you stick around long enough, we're showing some classic horror films!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Dr. Horrible

Got another dislike! I'm not really sure why the hatedom amuses me so much. Perhaps it's because they took the time to hit the dislike, but couldn't be bothered to tell me why they don't like it. Maybe it's because any attention is good attention. Maybe it's because I got an emotional reaction from someone even if that reaction is abhorence. (Oh, right, link. I'm an idiot)

Doesn't matter.

I thoroughly enjoyed this video. I never thought I would say that about a review that didn't show a lick of footage from the item being reviewed, save for still photos and title cards. Joss Wedon is the bane of my existence, along with J.J. Abrams and other auteurs who have one big hit and try to dictate the nature of entertainment with their own sense of pretentiousness. And they smell.
But like I said, I loved this video. ... You really have a lot to say and it's smart. I hope people get to hear it. Keep it up!

--Righteous Brian

Well thank you RB for fully vindicating me. I actually don't hate Joss Whedon, I just think that banter is the only thing he writes well. But he still produces some great stuff (I'm thinking Firefly), so I hold him to a higher standard than I do people I've never heard of. Purely subjective, there, but I'm'a stick to it. And who the Hell is JJ Abrams?

Okay I went and looked him up, and I'm generally not impressed by the filmography... but then that doesn't really mean anything. I don't watch much in the way of movies, and I gave up most television a long time ago as a useless waste of time.

Which then begs the question of why, exactly, I watch television most of my waking hours. But that's a story for another time.

Anyway, spread my videos, send them to your friends; I'm trying to get an intelligent critique of television out there, but I really cannot do it by myself.

Friday, October 8, 2010


Not a whole lot of time for philosophizing today, but here's the link to that guy who wanted to feature me.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

From the Audience

Yeah, I know, been doing a lot of these. Bite me, I'm watching unmemorable TV. What show you ask? Well, I can't tell you; I don't remember.

On the Time Travel episode in SGU Season 1: It was resolved (mostly, sorta) in the webisodes. Really, all it shows is Eli and the others watching the final recording from the retrieved Keeno.

Webisode. Gech, that really is a terrible word. It's difficult to say, and SpellCheck doesn't recognize it. Incidently, SpellCheck also doesn't recognize SpellCheck. In any case, I totally get expanding upon the world that the producers have built in web content, but the bulk of the plot and everything should probably be in the original medium. In other words, it's a television show so everything that goes into the show should be complete and self-reliant. It should not depend on the web content to explain basic plot points.

As to the blue aliens.. Check out the full Season 2 trailer. They did something to Chloe (no longer so useless, eh? =P )

No, she's still useless. In fact, she's so useless she needs an external force in order to have any bearing on anything. Take that.

... But yeah, I see that you are trying to fill a niche that no one is really covering at the Escapist right now. And it is a welcome addition, since I'm a big fan of series TV and that content is missing from most anywhere right now, except straight media entertainment sites. I'd say you should expand your range of possible targets to be any episodic series, since web content is a slowly growing format now. ... but I wrote this whole thing mainly to say: Babylon 5, the greatest sci-fi drama of all time? You, Ma'am, are my new personal hero.


Actually, that's the whole reason I started critiquing TV shows in the first place: No one else was doing it. Well, there are people that do individual episodes, and there are the reviewers that marketing people pay to review shows, but they don't really count. And you're very welcome, Sir. I do my best.

I discussed the idea of expanding into web serieses and that opened up a whole new can of worms: What, precisely, is my purview? So after some conversation I have decided to lay down some rules here where I can look for them if I feel like breaking them.

1. Anything episodic visual media is mine for the reviewing. Miniseries: yes. Made for TV movies: no.

2. Web serieses are also good to review, but in moderation. The bulk of my reviews should be actual television shows. I shall probably resort to web series when I'm behind schedule and need something fast.

3. Web supplements to television shows may be reviewed separately, but will not be considered part of the content to their show. See above comments about web content for explanation, if you haven't yet gleaned my preconceptions about web content.

4. Other rules that I decide to create as the situation arises.

So, within my utterly arbitrary rules, I can review Dr. Horrible because it was released in scheduled segments, like a miniseries (Insert maniacal laughter here). So that's exactly what I shall do. It's only forty-five minutes of watching, so I can get it done in time for Sunday, which will push White Collar back to next week and put me back on schedule. Bonus!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

From the Audience

The other day  my computer had a pretty thorough meltdown. It pitched a little fit and shut off and refused to find Windows when I turned it back on. That's happened before, and if I hit Ctrl+Alt+Delete enough times the little bastard usually decides that it's not worth the effort to keep my operating system from me and goes and retrieves Windows from... I don't know, time-out perhaps.

This time, though it didn't work. So I took my laptop to my resident computer guy (that would be Dad. Dude used to contract at Intel, so he gets all the computer-related bitching withing a mile radius), and he did some surgery and concluded that something on the motherboard had melted. Fortunately my hard-drive is just fine, so all of my writing and reviews and stock pictures and slides aren't lost they're just inaccessible. Until someone around here (four other computers in the house, surely someone is willing to let me tear apart their tower to replace their hard-drive with mine for long enough to retrieve a couple of massive folders. Surely) lends me (Dad) their tower for a bit.

So my review schedule is shelved for now. I'm trying to do what I can on the computer in the living room, but unless I revert to nocturnalism (which is looking better and better by the hour), I have to share it. I'm going to try to get White Collar out on time, but no guarantees.

Incidently, White Collar is terrible. More on that on Sunday (I hope), but yeah. Not great.

Seems to be a thing with these shows that could have been. Burn Notice could have been a modern day MacGyver, but is instead James Bond as done by Micheal Bay with worse writing. Heroes, could have been a fresh take on superheroes, but instead was just slow and painful. Stargate could have been an intense, psychology driven survival drama, but instead is shameless cashing in.

Speaking of Stargate, now that I'm a bit calmer, here's the comment I got on... whenever the hell that was. I'm going to outline my response paragraph by paragraph, rather than taking the whole thing on at once. And here we go.

Problems with your review are manifold, and almost all come down to your own unwillingness to watch the intervening series'. Now, you can critique the "big issues" exactly as you did without issue, as the ones you mentioned are all related to the mechanics of the show, for the record we disagree about the characters. However, your "quibbles" section is full of things which are either down to your own inadequacy(really, you can't keep track of nine characters?) or your own lack of knowledge about the franchise, but I'm in a nice mood so I'll help you out.

Points for the condescending tone. Also, the word manifold means "many and varied". You've got half of that down pat, but your complaints with me seem to all be "ignorance", which really isn't very varied. And why the hell are you telling me that you disagree about the characters in the same paragraph as you calling me "inadequate." Insults and legitimate opinions should never go together. And you can take your "nice mood" and shove it where-- oh, look another paragraph.

1. You can't apply Newtonian physics to a damn wormhole. In normal circumstances, a person entering a Stargate will exit with the same direction and velocity. However, while within the wormhole itself, a person is simply energy and an encoded data stream, so in the event other factors influence the gate at either end, or the wormhole itself, they can be literally thrown out of the exit aperture as a safety measure. For the record, this has been observed in each of the ten seasons of SG1, as well as the 5 seasons of Atlantis, and the TV movies.

Now, I'm not a physicist, but why can't you apply Newtonian physics to wormholes? Oh, right, wormholes are unproven. Still, that doesn't mean that you can abandon physics just because half the situation is hypothetical. And further, Meta is Bad, remember? Dude, I don't care if there was an ad in the paper explaining the physics of this show, if there's a logical discrepinsy that isn't covered in the show, it could light itself on fire and tango in my front yard and I still wouldn't care.

2. FTL is explained in the series as one of several standard sci-fi variations based on vague real science hypotheses. Hyperspace is the most common, in the case of the Destiny, it would be appear to be some variation on the Alcubierre drive.

Meta is Bad.

3. Your argument about the ship's longevity is entirely dependent on knowledge of what materials were used in its construction, which we as viewers do not have. Considering the knowledge we have from earlier series'(which you couldn't be arsed to watch), Ancient technology is extremely advanced, one would assume their materials sciences would be as well.

Meta is Bad.

4. Your complaint about the Ancients is, once again, down to your own lack of knowledge rather than a flaw in the program(seriously, you couldn't even waste ten minutes reading the Stargate entry on wikipedia?); Stargate uses the "humanity was seeded by aliens" trope, those aliens being the Ancients who built Destiny. The entire five-season run of the Atlantis series was based on this very premise.

Boy are you proving my point. New audience remember? Not everyone who watches Universe is going to have watched fifteen previous seasons of material! It must be accessible to everyone, elsewise someone is falling down on the job.

5. Stores of food? Seriously? You missed the part of the show which explained the concept of Destiny entirely then, you know, where the Ancients would 'gate into the ship with all the necessary supplies to set themselves up. Including food.

Yeah, that was a dumb complaint... but then it was also part of a list of other spectacularly petty gripes that weren't picked on by Fanboy Prime over here.

6. I'm going in order along with the video, so this is really a repeat, but: Alcubierre drives circumvent special relativity.

Meta is Bad. Also bad, is justification from other shows. The premise is universal, but everything else is, and should stay, compartmentalized.

7. While I agree with you that cutting the "stargate trip" CGI was a bad thing, the irony is this was done by the producers in order to please viewers such as yourself - non-fans who don't have the patience or inclination to understand the lore.

Oh, Gods, a cogent statement! Cutting the trip was a good idea, but they didn't cut it out every time, so it looks sloppy.

8. You're even going to get on top of the episodic cliffhangers? Really? I'm not trying to come off as offensive, but have you watched any sci-fi dramas before? It's pretty much an integral part of the format.

Dude, what kind of a sci-fi fan are you if you make a blanket statement that precludes the greatest sci-fi drama of all time: Babylon 5? And yeah, I was offended.

9. And the time travel. I had a suspicion you would have a crack at that episode after the first minute of your video. Again, watch the preceding series'.

"Everything else is, and should stay, compartmentalized." Just... stop talking. You're done. Just... no. Oh, shit, there's more.

I know I'm coming off as a dick, but SG:U gets a lot of crap, and I really rather enjoy it. Most the points people make I can agree to disagree, but fully half your review is predicated on problems which aren't really problems if you've watched the previous shows, or can muster the energy to type "Stargate" into Wikipedia.

Aaaand we're back to the condescension. Okay, being a fan does not, not, make you entitled. It just doesn't. Further, after watching seventeen hours of show, writing nineteen hundred words, making a hundred seventy six slides, and recording ten minutes of audio (heavily cut down), no I didn't "have the energy" to do some arbitrary research on something only tangentally related to the review! Maybe, SG: U gets a lot of crap because it's not a good show. Just a suggestion.

Would you review Return of the King without having seen Fellowship and Two Towers? If you did, would you base that review in large part on quibbles which would be solved by seeing them?

That's not even a relevant analogy. Apples and oranges there, bud. Or rather, books and television. Different mediums, is my point, and you can't make the standards there linear enough to cross-review.

I know I spoke at length on this last time, but I've since done some stewing, and what is the internet for if not spewing my opinions?

Ooh! Ooh! Also! This... guy on That Guy With the Glasses is featuring part of my Eastwick video in his Forum Feature segment. I'll put up a link here as soon as I have it. Let's just say that if he pans me unfairly I'm'a review his stuff and see what he makes of it.

In other, other news (This one's getting a tad long, so I'll keep it short), I saw Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog the other day, and I would love, love, to review it. Sadly, it's technically outside of my purview, being an internet series, not a television series. So I'm'a leave this one up to ya'll. Review Dr. Horrible, yay or nay?