Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘TV

The Winchesters and yet another TV fiasco

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I am currently three-quarters through the second episode of the Supernatural (SN) spin-off/prequel The Winchesters (TW)—and it is time to give up again.

Now, I was not optimistic to begin with, in light of the often low quality of current TV and how even the last few seasons of SN did not hold up that well. However, TW is almost scarily bad quality-wise. For instance, three of the five* main actors do not even have a Wikipedia page at the moment and the quality of the cast in terms of ability is very disputable. (Ditto script writing and whatnot.) In contrast, SN started off with two well-established, if young, actors, one of which (Jensen Ackles) was extremely talented, and further characters added were usually very well cast. Moreover, in terms of concept, I strongly suspect that a continuation of two-against-the-world would have worked better, just replacing the brothers (Sam and Dean) with their parents (John and Mary). Even two-against-the-world aside, the new series does not feel like it belongs in the same universe, being more of a random series dealing with supernatural events.

*Wikipedia mentions six, including John’s mother/the grand-mother of Sam and Dean, but the actual “Scooby gang” consists of five youngsters. (With reservations, here and elsewhere, for what might happen during the rest of the series.)

Going by just quality, I see a cancellation of TW after the first season looming—while SN ran for 15 (!) seasons. (And going by episode count, the difference would likely be even larger, as SN belonged to the 2x-episodes-per-season era, while most current series range between 6 and 12.)

As if this is not enough, there is a massive issue with woke casting and characterization:

Of the five main characters, one is a heterosexual White male and one a heterosexual White woman—the parents, John and Mary, who are hard to avoid. However, John has a suspiciously borderline Hispanic (or Mediterranean?) look and is, of course, a complete newbie to fighting evil, who has to be lead by the hand by Mary.

The remaining three? Respectively, a flamingly and ridiculously stereotyped gay Hispanic, a Black woman, and an Indian (Hindu) woman. So, two Whites to three non-Whites, and one straight man to four women or gays. (Also note that the series is set in the 1970s, with a radically different demographic situation than today.)

TW, on the other hand, was one of the few shows to still keep a reasonably apolitical casting, with a clear target group of male viewers* and where old-school male heroes were still allowed. Through the early theme of the two brothers driving around in a car fighting evil, it was arguably the ultimate in “male buddies” series. Sadly, it often seems that exactly such series and movies are targeted for after-the-fact destruction through inferior and woke reboots, spin-offs, etc. Consider e.g. “Ghost Busters”, “Star Trek”, “Star Wars”, and the development of the various Marvel movies.

*Something not to be underestimated. One of the problems with current TV shows is that they lean towards female viewers in a very disproportionate manner.

Excursion on gay portrayals:
The portrayal of gays is often, as here, very “in the face” in a destructive manner—and one unlikely to do real-life gays any favors. (Contrast this with Cam and Mitchell on “Modern Family” for a better way—still gay, but not flaming, provocative, or generally idiotic. Cam and Mitchell are humans first, gay second.) A particular problem with gay portrayals, many drag queens, and whatnot, is a complete lack of understanding of aesthetics. Just throwing some female mannerisms or female clothes, let alone make-up, onto a man does not make for the same result. Firstly, it is not a given that what is aesthetic in combination with one person is so with another. Secondly, there must be a reasonable consistency. Combining, as here, female/gayish mannerisms with a borderline uni-brow and an almost cave-man face is not a good idea. Thirdly, in terms of reaching a certain look, men and women have different strengths and weaknesses, and (if a similar look is at all attempted), this must be taken into consideration, e.g. by taking care to counter the typically coarser features of the male face. Failure to do so can not only lead to a lack of aesthetics but to an outright ugly, off-putting, and/or clownish result—as, on all three counts, here. (Contrast this, again, with Cam and Mitchell, while excepting Cam’s actual circus clowning. It might even be argued that circus clowns deliberately go for clashes and exaggerations that do not work in order to achieve a humorous purpose.)

(Similar remarks apply more widely, e.g. in that a dress that works for a woman with one type of body-shape need not work for a woman with another type, in that a certain hairstyle might work with one face but not another, in that Black women typically need a different color palette for make-up than White women, and in that color of clothes must be sufficiently compatible. Ditto, for a more manly example, combinations of design elements for cars that might seem “cool”, when taken individually, but simply do not work well when thrown together on the same car.)


Written by michaeleriksson

December 3, 2022 at 10:05 pm

Dying connections

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One danger of leaving Sweden, those 25 years ago, that I had not considered, and that has only began to truly hit me over the last few years, is connections dying.

When I lived in Sweden, I built up a long list of cultural and other connections to Sweden, including through familiarity with various TV shows, songs, actors, TV hosts, … Some of these connections were to the current, others more retrospective (often going back long past my own birth year, 1975, just like a U.S. someone born in that year might have gained a familiarity with, say, Lucille Ball and Milton Berle).

Since I left, the addition of such references has been rare and time has flown. For instance, last Christmas, I read up on “Julkalendern”* on Swedish Wikipedia, and found a mention of some series considered one of the most classic. I was temporarily thrown, as I did not recognize the name at all. I clicked on a link to refresh my memory—and found that this alleged classic had not aired in the 1970s or 1980s, as a true classic “should” have, but in 2000-something-or-other. We now have TV classics that first aired after I moved away… That I stopped watching “Julkalendern” long before that does not help.**

*In a very long tradition, SVT (the “Swedish BBC”) broadcasts a new kids’ “Christmas calendar” series during each advent period, one episode per day. As an example, and a then personal favorite, one series dealt with the adventures of various supernatural creatures during the Swedish winter (“Trolltider”).

**Through a combination of my out-growing the age group and a few weak years—or, maybe, my out-growing the age group and becoming more discerning. I do know that “Julkalendern” had gone from one of the high points of the year to “blah” before I hit my teens.

There we have one side—I have fallen so far behind in Swedish* cultural connections that I might almost be a foreigner. The more so, as many of the younger generations will not share even my old connections, being too young, too uninterested in the old, or drowning in too much content—much unlike my situation, with the two public-broadcast channels, no private ones, and no Internet.

*I am much more up-to-date with e.g. the U.S., and I suspect that I would find some common ground even in Sweden based on U.S. references, but that is not the same. My connection to Germany, too and in this specific regard, is weaker than the U.S. connection, as I do not watch German TV broadcasts and as Internet TV has much less German than U.S., or e.g U.K., content.

Then we have the other side—the horribly heartbreaking side.

Those actors, TV hosts, whatnot of yore? Dead, dying, or old as Methuselah. (Or so it feels.)

Today (November 13th, 2022) I learned of the death of Sven-Bertil Taube, who was of considerable fame in his own right, but was also the son of Evert Taube—a true legend within Swedish culture, in general, and music, in particular. Here we have two effects that make the death the more depressing. Firstly, Sven-Bertil’s status as the son made me associate him with a younger generation.* Secondly, he spent considerable efforts on keeping his father’s legacy alive. The total lifespan of the two, going by Wikipedia, stretches from 1890 for the birth of the father to 2022 for the death of the son. Even allowing for some time for Evert to get started, this is a roughly hundred-year era that has just ended.

*Relatively speaking, as he was already middle-aged when I first encountered him. A related problem is that my image of various familiar Swedish faces is dominated by my time in Sweden and that this image has not been updated by seeing continually older versions of the familiar faces. That these faces are now several decades older still takes me by surprise, whenever I re-encounter one.

But Sven-Bertil Taube is by no means the only death, only the most recent in a very long and often saddening list. That Astrid Lindgren and Martin Ljung are gone is not remarkable—they were old* when I first encountered them as a very small child in the late 1970s. But what about Magnus, Brasse, & Eva**, who were young and hip when I first watched their teach-children-to-spell-and-count show in the 1970s? Two dead, one in his eighties. Arne Weise? Lennart Swahn? Hasse & Tage? Etc. Etc. Etc. Of course, I did not necessarily have strong feelings about all of the dead. They range from the likes of Astrid Lindgren and Martin Ljung, who truly meant something to me, to those (I will not give names) whom I might have even slightly disliked, but who had, in some sense, “been there” for most of my life—in the comparatively small entertainment and television world of little Sweden, the chances of encountering certain faces and voices a few times a year, merely by turning on the TV, were large. (And this looking at, say, actors and singers. Those actively hosting TV shows, reading the news, or even being a hallåa*** might be encountered on a weekly or daily basis for years.)

*At least, in my perception of old at the time.

**Who illustrates that not all deaths are very recent. She died very prematurely in the early 1990s, despite being the youngest of the three. Still, it gets worse with every year, as the deaths accumulate.

***The closest English approximation, after a brief search, seems to be in-vision continuity announcer. This group was comparatively long lived in Sweden, and did add something, when done correctly.

A particularly sad example is Marie Fredriksson, who died a few years ago. I was never that big on Roxette, but she still managed to leave an early impression of young, energetic rock-star—and Roxette was the new Swedish band, replacing Abba. It feels like yesterday; it was not.

(On the upside, knock-on-wood, Per Gessle is still alive; and, as a counterpoint, Abba released a new album just a few months ago.)

Now, much of this is recognizable even to non-emigrants my age. Early childhood heroes, in particular, tend both to have a disproportionate impact on the child and to be at risk of death after some 40–50 years. Certainly, many in the U.S. resp. U.K might have had a feeling of almost personal loss after the recent deaths of Betty White, Angela Lansbury, or the Queen. (All highly popular and with careers going back to before the birth of most of the rest of the population.) But I have no continuity, no replacement, my connection is dying out as the old greats die.

Then again, this text is not truly about lost cultural connections and dead TV stars. They add to the true meaning, but they are not it.

Disclaimer: I wrote most of the above quite a few months ago, and have taken the death of Sven-Bertil Taube as reason to belatedly finish the text. I have, however, not verified that all that was true at the original time of writing still is true.

Excursion on classics:
A general tendency seems to be that humans are biased to consider those works classic that they encountered at the right age. (This age can vary depending on the field, but is usually fairly low.) An interesting example, and one overlapping with an older text on traditions and Christmas, is the Swedish Christmas tradition of watching the Disney show “From All of Us to All of You” (in my late 40s, I still find a way). My father, now in his 70s and maybe born a little too early to catch the tradition as a sufficiently young child, prefers another re-run: a black-and-white short with reading of “Tomten”.*

*A well-known Swedish poem, set in midwinter, dealing with a tomte (roughly, brownie; but “tomte” is also found in the Swedish name for Santa Clause—Jultomten). who does his work while philosophizing over life, death, and how human generations come and go in so mysterious a manner. For the short, this is wrapped in a sweet little frame story of a grandmother (who does the reading) and her grandson (who listens intently), and complemented with a live action tomte during the actual reading.

Excursion on German TV:
Why do I not watch German TV? I tried it in my early years, but the quality was usually quite low (decidedly lower than in e.g. Sweden, despite much bigger budgets and viewer numbers), there was too much advertising, and any non-German show was dubbed—in a crime against both the original makers and the audience. Not worth my time.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 13, 2022 at 9:39 pm

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Problems with TV / Some thoughts on “Dexter”

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Revisiting old TV series, most recently “Dexter”, I often find that there is much more dead weight and annoyances than I remembered. (Also see e.g. [1], [2].) More generally, dead weight and annoyances are a very major problem with modern TV and other media, and it tendentially grows worse the newer the work.

Consider “Dexter”:

The core of the series is a serial killer trying to fit into a society filled with humans so different from him that he has to wear a metaphorical mask, while researching bad guys* to be his victims and implementing their deaths without getting caught. This is complemented with a prolonged (metaphorical) chess game against and/or a personal relationship with the “bad guy[s] of the season”. Additional depth is found by the effects of his activities on those near-and-dear to him and his parallel lives as serial killer and forensics expert, often dealing with the same crimes and criminals in both lives.

*A key point is that he lives according to a code that does not allow the killing of innocents and those whose severe guilt is not proven beyond reasonable doubt.

Based on these aspects great television can be made, and when, in my impressions during this latest watching, the series focused on them it was great.

However, often these aspects seemed to make up less than half the episode, the rest being filler, dead weight, annoyances, or just bad TV. This included so many sex scenes and lengthy and shallow relationship talks that it sometimes felt like a soap opera (and I found myself repeatedly skipping ahead), there were unnecessary holier-than-thou speeches, issues with child-rearing, and various other nonsense—often involving secondary characters with whom the viewer had no real investment. What I wanted to see was, e.g., the next few moves in the aforementioned chess game; what I did see* was, e.g., Dexter’s nanny spending two minutes kissing one of Dexter’s co-workers.

*Well, except for my tendency to skip forward.

Some degree of non-core aspects is not a problem. In fact, it can enrich and give color and variation, but it must be kept to a sufficiently small proportion of the screen time, not dominate the episode. By analogy, a chef might add pepper to a certain dish with great success, but he would keep the quantity of pepper significantly smaller than of the main components, be they meat, rice, potatoes, whatnot.

Moreover, there are things that might work when done with sufficient skill—but where that skill is usually lacking. For instance, many series contain long sequences of suspense, which bring nothing to the respective episode but suspense—the story is not moved forward, there is no opportunity of insight, there is no character building, … Now, suspense worked for Hitchcock—but he was the acclaimed “master of suspense”. The typical TV director is simply too far short of Hitchcock for him to succeed where Hitchcock might have. Moreover, the point of saturation for suspense is, at least for me, far shorter than for something that requires me to think or which actually develops the series/movie. Similarly, long dialogues between two lovers might* work if they are sufficiently well written, but they virtually never are—and often they are not even attempting to be deep, instead focusing on “dialogue” like “Morning, honey. [kiss] And you, honey. [kiss] Can you do X today? [kiss] Yeah, sure. [kiss] [and so on for another minute]”. My point of saturation for such nonsense? Well, even the above example would have left me over-saturated.

*Or not. I know of no “master of relationship talks”, and I strongly suspect that the key to good dialogue is to be as brief as the message allows. For more intellectual works, what is not said is often more interesting.

In many cases, I have the suspicion that these scenes serve less to achieve something and more to ensure a certain run-time, that the actual story might allow for twenty minutes and another twenty minutes of filler have to be found.

In the case of specifically various sex/romance/relationship scenes, there is a definite possibility that the show makers are merely catering to the female viewers, but this does not change or excuse the typically low quality, with scenes that are neither sexy, nor romantic, nor intimate, nor insightful, nor whatever else might have been intended.* Moreover, this type of catering could easily be reduced to series that actually are intended primarily for women, which “Dexter” is not.

*In fact, some of them are more off-putting than anything. That artificial and disgusting smacking sound that accommodates every kiss is particularly disturbing.

It is notable that many low-budget/independent/whatnot movies tend to have a low tempo and contain much filler, often in the form of showing someone walking for thirty seconds from point A to point B, where a more proficient director might have spent three seconds by using a suitable cut. The long silent car ride at the beginning of the movie is outright hackneyed—so often does it occur. (Despite being pointless* and boring.) A “poignant silence” in the middle of a dialogue sometimes works; more often, it does not, and a silence is not automatically poignant.**

*Here and elsewhere, note the difference between, on the one hand, doing something in order to achieve a specific purpose and being successful at this purpose, and, on the other, either doing something for no valid reason or failing to achieve what was intended.

**Disclaimer: I consider “poignant” to be simultaneously pretentious and almost nonsensical, and these uses might be the first of my life. However, the pretentiousness does match a certain type of “artiste”, and seems apt in context.

Excursion on “Dexter: New Blood”:
I watched the first episode of “Dexter: New Blood” shortly after its release, but the series struck me as both pointless and poorly made, so I did not watch the remainder. A particular issue was the white hart (or whatnot): As soon as both the hart and the bad guy had been introduced,* I immediately predicted, with an inner sigh over poor TV, that the bad guy would kill the hart, which Dexter had so deliberately spared. I went through most of the episode waiting for the event. Then, towards the end, there was a prolonged scene of failed suspense involving Dexter, the hart, and the bad guy. I was distracted for most of the scene, as I expected the killing to follow at any second—but it did not. Finally, I concluded that I had been wrong, that the script writer was not a complete hack, not set on doing the blindingly obvious and then trying to pass it off as a great surprise. At that moment, the bad guy … killed the hart.

*There are many details that I do not remember, like the order of introduction and the name of the bad guy.

Excursion on multiple value-bringing areas:
The discussion of “Dexter” should not be taken to imply that a series must restrict itself to a single area of activities or a single “high concept”. Even “Dexter” gained from the combination of serial killing and police procedural. To continue an earlier metaphor, meat and rice together might be better than either alone, and the one might be added to the other in a far greater quantity than is recommendable with pepper.

A particularly good example is “Chuck”, an action/spy comedy series, where there are two “high concepts” (the spy world and the retail-store), either of which could have been made into a good TV series of its own. Together, they made a great series.* Yes, “Chuck” had its share of relationship talks and kisses, but these played in much better with the overall than for, say, “Dexter”, were more limited in scope, were often successfully used for comedic purposes,** and the Chuck–Sarah romance works in a manner that is rarely seen in other TV series. Dexter–Rita? Left me cold; Dexter–Hannah***? Ditto. (However, the comparison between the two series must be taken with a grain of salt, as the one is likely intended virtually exclusively as entertainment, the other as a mixture of entertainment and food for thought.)

*In combination with a sufficiently high-quality execution. The same with worse actors, writers, whatnot, might still not have been anything special.

**Not an option with a non-comedy, but the bigger point of playing to the strengths of a series, instead of just adding filler or catering to female viewers, holds.

***Coincidentally played by the same actress, Yvonne Strahovski, as Sarah.

Excursion on more general low tempo, low thinking:
As I have grown older (potentially a partial defense for various TV series), I have found my interest in other activities with a low amount of required thinking dwindling over the years. I am, for instance, less likely to spend time watching art* than when I was younger, I often find myself viewing particularly low-tempo TV/movies at an increased speed, my patience with (non-fiction) texts that do not get to the point is short, etc.

*Which is not to say that all art would be for unthinking watching, nor to deny that an inquisitive mind, especially one asking “why” and “how”, can find something to think about. However, the thinking for a typical painting tends to overlap very strongly with the thinking for most other paintings and/or involve too much speculation for my taste. It is not as bad as “once you have seen one X, you have seen all X”, but when the paintings already intently and intensely seen go into the hundreds, there is not much value in adding yet another.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 22, 2022 at 12:59 pm

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There are many complaints (some by me) about the low quality of recent TV series, how infected with wokeness they are, whatnot. Well, maybe we should make that recent English-language* TV series: I have just finished watching an 8-part Russian Trotsky biopic, which is absolutely brilliant in terms of acting, cinematography, scripting, whatnot. There is some gratuitous sex, but nothing is perfect. There is no Leftist agenda pushing, no horrendous miscasting, no bullshit—except maybe the surprisingly strong Russian of various Mexicans and other non-Russians. Well, there was an epidemic and some minor mask-wearing, but as this, the Spanish Flu, was something real both in terms of historicity and of threat level, there is no reason to be critical.

*The Brits are even worse than the Yankees. I would not be the slightest bit surprised to see a biopic of the recently dead QE II have her portrayed by someone Black, transgender, or otherwise utterly inappropriate for the part. (Writing “inappropriate”, I suddenly see Sacha Baron Cohen as a drag-queen Queen flash before my eyes. The image is very disturbing.)

While I am not well-read enough on Trotsky to judge the historical accuracy in detail, the series does provide a portrait of the disturbing evils of the Russian Communist/Bolshevik movement that is certainly accurate in the main. (Cf. e.g. “The Black Book of Communism”.) Here it poses a great learning opportunity for many modern Westerners, who fail to understand that Communism is as bad as or worse than Nazism was. Here we see the true face of Communism, maybe Leftism in general.

Trotsky, himself, is depicted as a monster—evil in a manner far more scary than, say, Darth Vader. More importantly, the series shows how evil wins when evil acts are done in the name of good, when the end is allowed to justify the means, and when individuals are denied any value in their own right, being reduced to tools for the Cause or, as so often today, to mere pawns for a chess-playing pseudo-elite—all problems that are ever recurring with the Left and all problems that I have written about in the past.*

*A particularly interesting example is the death penalty, used by the Tsars, abolished by the revolution (which was claimed as “a triumph of the revolution”, or similar, by one speaker), and then re-instated on the instigation of Trotsky in order, at least ostensibly, to protect the same revolution. (Notably, a death penalty intended less for true criminals and more for political enemies. Kangaroo courts and summary executions followed in the same episode.) The pigs do walk on two legs.

Then we have the issue that merely winning is not enough: The Bolsheviks might have won (over the Mensheviks, over the “Whites”, over the Tsar, over the whatnot), but they were unable to actually build the paradise that they had promised. From another point of view, Trotsky (at least as depicted here) might have temporarily won over Lenin and Stalin, but he was not able to hang on to his victory.

Particularly interesting are the strong signs of anti-Semitism* shown even by many Communists. As I have noted repeatedly in my texts on Nazis, e.g. in [1], there is nothing specifically Nazi, let alone Rightwing,** about anti-Semitism.

*Trotsky, originally Bronstein, was a Jew. Anti-Semitic sentiment is also displayed against his father (severely beaten) and children.

**But the Nazis, of course, were Leftwing.

However, the series is not limited to political aspects. Issues around family, how high or low family is prioritized, and how different opinions and whatnots within families are handled are particularly important. A symbolic scene shows Trotsky returning home in triumph after the successful revolution, which he prioritized above an early return to visit his son, who was severely ill with the Spanish Flu. He approaches a bedroom filled with family—and his other son closes the doors in his face, literally and metaphorically excluding him from the family union. Similar issues apply to friendships and other relationships within the series.

As an aside, I recently wrote:

Do not be fooled by the apparent “for children” nature of “Animal Farm”, however, as its main benefits come from allegory that few children can understand. Indeed, I remember being disappointed by the lack of a happy ending after my own first reading, as a child—why did not Snowball come back and right all wrongs? (As an adult, I see how a happy ending would have ruined the point of the book; and I realize that, while Napoleon was a proven bad guy, Snowball had never truly proven himself to be a good guy, implying that the effects of his hypothetical comeback were uncertain.)

Snowball corresponds to Trotsky, in the typical interpretation of “Animal Farm”, and if the real life Trotsky was anything like the screen version, then it might have been for the best that Snowball did not come back.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 13, 2022 at 2:46 pm

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Some common problems in fiction

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Watching the recent TV series The Old Man,* I have two major, but overlapping, complaints that severely diminish an otherwise potentially worthwhile experience—and complaints that apply to a great many works.

*I have gone through roughly one episode a day for the last week, ending, today, with what I thought was the last episode of a mini-series. With the cliffhanger and a check of Wikipedia, it is clear that a second season will follow. I will not bother with this second season and would not have watched the first season to an end, had I not expected a concluded work. The first one or two episodes were great, but the series grew worse with every episode from there on.

Firstly, failing to find and to follow the true story, what is of true interest, what is the true value. A good example of this error is Stephen King’s short-story “Mile 81”:* It begins with a young boy going off on various entirely non-supernatural adventures straddling the border between boyhood and adulthood. Here we have some of his best writing, a great (if superficially trivial-seeming) story, and what he could have turned into a true literary accomplishment. He had me hooked. This early part was the true story. But this was a work by Stephen King and, true to form, he introduces an evil entity, in the guise of a car, which proceeds to eat humans, and we end up in “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” territory.

*I read it a handful of years ago and might be off in the details.

Secondly, to keep a clear focus. A certain degree of ornamentation and detours might well make a work better, but there has to be a limit. There is the story, there are the strengths of the work and/or the author at hand, and there is what brings us forward—that is where the focus should be.* By analogy, an action movie might well have a romantic subplot, but it should remain a subplot. Vice versa, a romantic movie might have an action scene, but must not descend into endless swash-bucklery while the audience waits for the evolution of the romantic relationship. Very, very few authors (directors, whatnot) have the skill to make several different things main components and still pull off something that actually works.** As a special case, gratuitous sex scenes, or even most scenes involving mere kissing, almost invariably waste time with nothing to show for it.***

*Yes, I know that my own (non-fiction) texts can be quite poor at keeping the focus, what with all the footnotes and excursions. I cannot clear 7 feet in the high jump either, but I still expect a (male) Olympic high-jump finalist to do so with ease.

**Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” is a great example of a success; “The Old Man” is not.

***This is not just a matter of a certain pointlessness, of not sticking to the story, etc., but also of incompetent execution, in as far as these scenes are hardly ever sexy, romantic, intimate, whatnot. More often, they are off-putting and unnatural.

As to “The Old Man”, the story is reasonably clear, but it is drowned in endless detours, secondary characters of dubious value, and pointless and excessive dialogue*. The actual strengths of the series were in the early action scenes and early tensions and whatnot; most of the non-action and most of the later series simply did not work, even with actors like Jeff Bridges and John Lithgow. The entire romantic/side-kick subplot with “Zoe” brings far too little value relative the space taken; it and the character should have been cut or reduced to one episode of contrast, which could have been used to deepen Jeff Bridges’ character or to illustrate his situation better.** Something similar applies to hitman “Carson”. Half the dialogue, in general, should also have been cut. Indeed, by episode 5 (out of 7), I began to fast-forward over some dialogue, especially dialogue involving “Zoe”.*** “Angela”/“Emily” being the daughter of “Hamzad”, as the giant plot-twist at the end of the season? Saw that one coming from miles away.**** By and large, a two-hour movie, with all the dead-weight cut and an actual ending, would have been a better solution than this seven-episode first season.

*Which is not to say that dialogue is a problem per se, nor necessarily any quantity of dialogue, but the author has to be good enough at it and it has to fit the overall, which was not the case here. Nor is it by any means to say that all the dialogue was pointless, just large portions of it. (However, even the “pointful” dialogue often erred by trying to be too clever, like two stereotypical psychoanalysts trying to analyze each other, or like two rhetoricians pontificating at each other. Hardly any of the dialogue felt natural.)

**Again, not to say that this character or subplot would not have worked in another series or, maybe, with another set of writers/actors/directors/whatnot. However, for this series, and for this set of “creatives”, it did not work.

***Some of the movies of Richard Linklater are a good source of examples of similar-but-worse issues: long stretches of endless shallow and uninteresting dialogue between shallow and uninteresting characters. (I can only suspect that Linklater intended them to be deep and meaningful, but, if so, he often misses the mark by miles.)

****But that “Angela” and “Emily” were identical, I admit, was a surprise. Then again, shoving a second “she is not who you think she is” onto the same character borders on the silly.

Excursion on does-not-work-here-but-might-work-elsewhere:
A good illustration of this idea is the Hitchcock movie “Torn Curtain”, where Julie Andrews’ character seems an unnecessary burden and complication, with little value, through most* of the movie. However, in my understanding, the original idea was to tell the story through the eyes of this character, including keeping the exact nature of Newman’s character’s defection secret. This might have worked quite well. However, once the point-of-view shifted away from her, the character no longer worked. (I do not remember why this change took place.) It is also possible that the part would have worked better with another actress—I have, frankly, never understood the enormous hype, even for non-singing parts, around Julie Andrews.

*A few scenes in the flight to the West towards the end are an exception.

Excursion on Stephen King:
Stephen King has a deservedly poor literary reputation in that he has chosen to write a lot of sensationalist, supernatural, whatnot bullshit for the broad masses, including a much younger version of me. (In my late pre-teens and early teens, I read and re-read anything by King that I could find.) Beneath that, however, he has genuine talent and he could have been a “serious” author of note, if he had so wanted. He is a better writer of short-stories than of novels and his non-supernatural writing (e.g. most or all of the “Bachman books”) tend to be better than his supernatural. Above all, maybe, he is great at characters. (In an interesting reversal of “The Old Man”, which was good at action but not at characters, interactions between characters, whatnot.) In some ways, “Mile 81” reflects his overall career and career choices.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 8, 2022 at 6:08 am

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Thoughts on “How I Met Your Mother”

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Next on my list of diversions from construction noise (cf. [1], [2]) is “How I Met Your Mother”. (Unfortunately, very incompletely and often in the wrong season order, because I have trouble finding the various DVDs.)

I have only seen the last season once—and this will remain so (irrespective of what DVDs I do find). Why? It was one of the most ill-conceived in TV history, breaking with the original format, bringing little new value in return, failing to truly let the viewers get to know the “mother”,* and, ultimately, shitting on the eight preceding seasons. These, from a romantic point of view, dealt with three main constellations: the long-standing Marshall–Lily relationship, the long and twisted road of the Barney–Robin relationship, and Ted’s search for the “mother”. What happens in the last season, where we should see the completion and happily-ever-after** of the two*** latter? Barney and Robin fall apart and “mother” dies, in order to bring the horrible constellation of Ted and Robin together …

*Which might otherwise have been a saving grace. Note that she has no true presence in the previous seasons, as more or less mandated by the idea of the show.

**Something typically assumable of a work of fiction, no matter how much tougher real life is.

***The first constellation already being at that stage.

Here, I strongly suspect a radically different problem than with most other TV series (but I possess no insider knowledge): The show makers began with a certain idea for how the show should end and stubbornly stuck with that idea, even after better developments presented themselves and/or that end proved ill-advised.

Ted and Robin simply did not have any chemistry, did not work well together, and seemed to crash and burn every time that they were in a relationship. In many ways, Robin might have been a mere fix and bad idea of Ted’s (in universe; a fix and bad idea of the makers in the real world), and a realistic (!) continuation of the series past the last season would likely just have shown them crash and burn for the umpteenth time. Compare this with his long-standing search for “the one” or his obsession with the “slutty pumpkin”, who turned out to be an even worse fit than Robin, once he found her again—and, yes, this involved another (see below) extremely premature “I love you”.

As much as I dislike Rachel (of “Friends”), her long romance with Ross was a case of two persons with a genuine long-term love and attraction, where I had the impression that they naturally were drawn together, while the makers continually intervened to push them apart in order to keep the “will they/won’t they” going.* Ditto Robin and Barney, who seemed right for each other, even when they screwed up. With Robin and Ted, I always had the opposite impression, that the characters were naturally repelling each other, but that the makers kept pushing them back together, no matter how bad a match they were.

*Wisely: most series tend to lose when this type of tension between main characters is removed, e.g. because they marry half-way through the series.

Look at the first season alone: Robin is immediately introduced as a romantic interest for Ted (indeed, with a mislead that she was the “mother”), there is an elaborate story with e.g. the stealing of a blue horn and an extremely premature “I love you”, but no actual sparks. In contrast, Ted and Victoria showed more sparks within their first episode than Ted and Robin did over the entire series. Similarly, there is one episode, of a mostly unromantic nature, where Robin plays the wingman to Barney—and the two just click in such a manner that I wanted more of them together and saw them as a great romantic match. (Probably, several seasons before their romance actually began, but the writing, in a positive sense, was already on the wall.)

Indeed, if the road of mother-is-dead-and-Ted-goes-for-some-old-crush is taken, Robin would not make the top-3, maybe* not even top-5, of my candidates.

*This will depend a little on seasons that I have not yet re-watched.

From another perspective, I have some troubles seeing any of Ted’s romances as the truly true thing, because, looking at the series as a whole, he seems to be more in love with the idea of love and romance than with the respective other party. (In this, he parallels a younger me, but I grew out of it in my twenties—Ted appears never to have done so, not even in the future of 2030, when he must be above 50.)

The fact that Ted and his actor (Josh Radnor) come across as extremely fake and “douchy”, especially in the first season, does not help—a constant and obviously fake smile, and arms spread out as were he about to wrestle the person in front of him. Barney might have been a scumbag in some ways, even criminal ways, but he somehow managed to be sympathetic* (not to mention entertaining). Ted? Not so much. In this, he is one of the few cases where I look back at a series and am open to another casting choice leading to a better series.** With many other series, I do not just have trouble seeing a better choice, but am left with the feeling that any other choice would not have been, say, Ross, Rachel, Joey, …—or, indeed, Barney***.**** Ted? Again, not so much.

*At least, from the perspective of a TV viewer. I do not guarantee that I would have the same sympathy if I met him in real life. (Similarly, it is often possible to sympathize even with some Mafia members in a movie, even in light of behavior that would be intolerable in real life.)

**Other examples include “JD” on “Scrubs” and both the main characters on “Psych”. Indeed, that I stopped watching “Psych” is largely rooted in the main characters. Series like that are often carried by high-quality secondary characters, e.g. Dr. Cox, Dr. Kelso, and the (unnamed) janitor on “Scrubs”—those cast with actors too old or unattractive to play the hip youngsters or young hipsters, but who have greater acting skills.

***My feelings for the other three main characters is half-way between these positions. I would be against a time-travel-and-recast scenario, but I am not so set on these specific actors that I would see another (quality) casting choice as a major blow.

****This phenomenon likely largely results from a mixture of exposure (I am simply used to seeing X played by Y) and the natural influence of the actor on the character (others might have done an equally good job, but the character would have been someone different, just like, say, two brothers are not carbon copies). However, series that are highly successful (and, therefore, more likely to have been seen by me) are typically of highly over-average casting, with the implication that replacing an important actor with a semi-random choice would, on average, lead to an objective quality drop.

Excursion on mental health of characters:
It is often the case that sitcom characters (to a lesser degree, TV characters in general) are of dubious mental health, ranging from minor “issues” to actual visits to the loony bin.* Consider e.g. “Friends”, where Ross went through a period where I would consider him so severely disturbed that he needed professional help (manifesting in e.g. his “secret marriage” to Rachel), both Chandler and Monica carry scars from a troubled childhood, and Phoebe straddles the border between kooky and crazy. After “Friends”, “How I Met Your Mother” might be the second placer on the mental-health scale (of the sitcoms that I am familiar with), with four out of five characters clearly not being where they should be, headwise. (I am uncertain about Marshall, who might or might not be.) Pick a season of “Friends” where Ross is in better shape and “How I Met Your Mother” might even be the number one. Within the group, Ted competes with Barney for the first place among the five, through his unhealthy romantic obsessions.**

*I stress that this is not necessarily a point of criticism: characters who are off-kilter open up new roads for both humor and stories, and if mental-health issues can achieve this, I have no problems with it. (Similar effects can be achieved through e.g. great originality, as with the Addams and Munster families, or great stupidity, as with various characters from “My Name is Earl” or, of course, Joey.) Neither is it, when kept within limits, necessarily unrealistic, as some level of problems is quite common in (at least) the modern Western populations.

**Which contribute to my skepticism towards the Ted–Robin romance(s). And, no, obsessing with love or finding a partner, or with any given specific partner (especially not, when it happens with several partners), is neither healthy nor a sign of true love.

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October 25, 2021 at 11:29 am

Buffy vs. Smallville / Follow-up: Thoughts on Smallville

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After “Smallville” proved bad enough to justify an earlier text, I have turned to (among other things) “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (BTVS) to survive the construction noise.

As BTVS is one of my all-time favorite series, possibly the favorite outright, I am surprised to find my latest viewing disturbed by exactly the type of long one-on-one talks that I complain about in “Smallville”. Now, those on BTVS tend to be much better made, with far fewer of the “almost always shallow, uninsightful, repetitive, poorly written, and often consisting of more cliches than true content” problems that plagued “Smallville”, and with absolutely no Lana Lang—but, unlike on earlier watchings, I am still often annoyed and I still find myself fast-forwarding a little here-and-there.

One possible explanation for this is that “Smallville” left me hyper-sensitized and reacting more negatively than I would have done otherwise—it is often the case that something grows annoying only after a certain threshold has been exceeded and that this annoyance can remain for a long time even after this something falls back below the threshold again.* Maybe, BTVS tends to stay below that threshold, while “Smallville” was (well) above it, and the true villain is “Smallville”.

*Construction noise and disturbances between neighbors is a good example. In normal circumstances, there is a wide range of noise that simply does not register with me, or which registers but is not annoying, for instance a single slamming of a door. However, the same noise during or within several weeks of construction-noise periods or the periods of stomping orgies (cf. older texts) can make me jump out of my skin.

Then again, it could be e.g. that my taste has changed/matured over the years or that my tolerance for a low tempo, a low information density, a low whatnot has diminished over the years—that my personal threshold has changed. (My last watching of BTVS is a long while back.) Indeed, it is not unusual for me to watch something (or a slow part of it) with the speed increased by 10, 21, or more percent.*

*I use mplayer, which has convenient keyboard shortcuts for increasing (and decreasing) the speed by a factor of 1.1 (or 10 percent). Doing so twice gives 21 percent, as 1.1 x 1.1 = 1.21. Going higher than 21 is usually possible without losing understanding, but leads to severe distortions of voices and music, can diminish the “mood” of a scene, and can lead to problems if something unusually fast happens. Of course, with completely boring scenes, using far higher speeds in combination with subtitles is an easy way out.

From an entirely different point of view: Is it possible that I have been disturbed by some of these in the past, but not truly been aware of it? Excepting Spike, I have found virtually all of Buffy’s romantic interests annoying. (Including Angel, who worked much better on the spin-off “Angel”, where Buffy rarely showed.) A partial explanation for this could be all the time spent in almost Lana–Clark talks. More generally, scenes on TV/in the movies that are intended to be romantic/sexual/intimate/whatnot rarely actually are, often leaving me put off. (I might go as far as suggesting a rule of thumb: if a scene depicts two persons who are not fully dressed, the scene is empirically unlikely to contain anything worthwhile and should be cut.)

While BTVS is far superior to “Smallville”,* it is by no means perfect. For instance, I have already complained about an undue amount of story arcs**/***, and a few unfortunate developments can be added, including the overall character arc for Willow, some disputable main antagonists (the Initiative, Adam, Glory, the Trio; although the Trio might have worked, if kept as a rare comedic-relief opponent) in the later seasons, and the utterly idiotic idea to make all “potentials” into slayers in season 7—anyone with common sense would have realized that the side-effects might be a greater evil than the invasion they were intended to stop, and would have found another/better manner to resolve the situation.****

*I would go as far as claiming that “Smallville” was to some degree made in the image of BTVS. Apart from early parallels like a high-school superhero with “regular” friends fighting a monster of the week, I note the strong involvement of Rob Des Hotel & Dean Batali with both “Smallville” and the early seasons of BTVS. As is usually the case, the copy fell short of the original.

**Previously, I have used “arch[es]”. While I would still consider this the more plausible word, the standard term appears to be “arc[s]”.

***Interestingly, the first few seasons shows a use of “good” arcs that are not very intrusive and that allow a “monster of the season” to co-exist with the various “monsters of the week”. This changes for the worse as time goes on.

****This decision might ultimately be a side-effect of show-runner Joss Whedon being one of those politically naive who believe that Feminism is about showing strong women, and have swallowed the lie that “men are abusive and women must be empowered” (or similar). In this, he is similar to the naive vampire fans of the episode “Lie to me”—and just like they, he got into trouble when he encountered the real thing. This naive worldview might well have influenced other decisions during the run of the series.

Correction on “Dallas”:

In my earlier text, I spoke of “Bobby was dreaming an entire season”. This was, of course, not the case. Someone else had the dream and Bobby died in the dream. (I was never a “Dallas” viewer, and I misassociated in the information gleaned from indirect sources over the years.)

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October 12, 2021 at 1:58 pm

Thoughts on Smallville / Follow-up: When a TV series turns into a zombie of its old self

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Caught in construction noise again (cf. [1], [2]), I have spent some time watching “Smallville”—a series where I managed to buy a complete set of DVDs, but only managed one prior watching. After enjoying the first few seasons reasonably, I have found myself increasingly frustrated with developments (or lack thereof), begun to actively skip ahead more and more, and finally reached the point (early season 6) that I just terminated an episode halfway through, with no intent on watching the remainder of the series.*

*During my first watching, possibly some ten years ago, I powered through, but my impression was very similar: a few good seasons and then worse and worse, season by season.

Here I have found a supreme example of a TV series turning into a zombie of its old self, losing it, making mistake after mistake, keeping what does not work and throwing out what did work. General problems include a switch from X-of-the-week to too many arches, constantly missing the difference between drama and soap (see excursion), having a swing-and-a-miss approach to characters, repeated attempts at jumping the shark, and too long stretches of virtually every episode that feels like filler—indeed, some episodes feel like more filler than true story.*

*To this can be added the move away from high school, which in my observations seems to be an extremely strong environment for good stories, and where series who move away from high school tend to drop in quality. However, with a tempo of one season per (in universe) year, this move can be very hard to avoid—and the price for doing so might be even worse. As a counterpoint, the series is called “Smallville”, and it might have been prudent to terminate it after high school, with an optional new series (“Metropolis”?) to follow the characters as the focus switched from Smallville to Metropolis.

To look at a few more specific issues, including some that should-have-changed-but-did-not:

  1. The character Lana Lang and the pretty but less-than-stellar and constantly overacting Kristin Kreuk (portraying her).* If everything warrants a hyper-intense emotion, then emotions have no value. The “soap” portions of the series tended to be in connection with her disproportionately often, and her scenes per the next item were the first where I began to skip forward. As to her character development, it was disastrous, increasingly turning a sweet-seeming girl into a coldhearted manipulative bitch. (Which is quite contrary to the down-to-earth woman of my vague recollections from long-ago comics and the Christopher-Reeve movies.)

    *Generally, many of the younger actors seemed to have been cast more for looks than acting ability.

  2. Endless one-on-one discussions between various characters, in particular Clark and Lana, that I suspect were intended to be deep and meaningful—but which were almost always shallow, uninsightful, repetitive, poorly written, and often consisting of more cliches than true content. Most of the later episodes of my re-watching seems to have the actual story end somewhere between minutes 30 and 35—and then to be padded with several such discussions to reach 40 minutes. Of course, these discussions were by no means limited to the end of the episodes.

    There are only so many times that I can hear claims like “I am so lucky to have you as a friend!”, “I would never hurt you!”, and so on, before I become nauseated. (Lionel vs. Lex, and some other more hostile constellations, were rarely nauseating, but still highly repetitive, predictable, cliched, etc.)

  3. Partially as a special case, we have the odd relationship developments between Lex and Clark, who seem to oddly drift apart when they would be likely to move in a more friendly direction in real life, and towards each other when they should have drifted apart. Here, I have the impression that the writers could not make up their minds as to whether the two should be friends or enemies. (A similar point might apply to Lex and Lionel, and/or some other constellations, e.g. whether X loves Y.)
  4. Not long before I stopped watching, there was a chain of bad decisions around the Kents:

    Having Jonathan run for state senate—an unnecessary complication of the story with very little potential. (To boot, it is disputable whether he, or Martha, had anywhere near the right set of skills. I do not think highly of politicians, but to go from running a failing farm to be a successful senator is a stretch.)

    Having Jonathan win—ditto.

    Killing off Jonathan—one of the stronger and more sympathetic characters is gone for no obvious* reason, while his less-value-bringing wife (Martha) is kept.

    *Watching the following episodes, the hidden reason seems to be the abysmally bad idea, pure soap, to open the doors for a Lionel–Martha romance.

    Having Martha take over his seat—again, an unnecessary complication with very little potential.

    Ruining the already weak Martha character through a major transformation.

    (To this might be added the Lionel–Martha romance, should it actually manifest, which was not yet clear at the point where I stopped watching.)

  5. Many other character changes were disputable. On the positive side, we have the removal of Pete, who simply did not bring any value, and the addition of Lois Lane, who brought in a new dynamic and reduced the screen time available for Lana. On the negative, we have the entirely unnecessary and mostly annoying Oliver Queen/Green Arrow (who, I would argue, was an attempt to jump the shark; and whose appearance strongly contributed to my bowing out), several replacements of Lionel-of-one-personality with Lionel-of-another-personality, and the odd Teague family*.

    *Jensen Ackles did a good job as the son, but it did not feel like there was enough room for him, and his character development was odd. However, Jane Seymour as his mother was the caricature of a 1980s female soap-opera character—and note how there seems to be a drift towards this type of character with e.g. Lana and Martha too. Add in the Luthors and Oliver Queen, and the question arises whether this is a superhero show or a “Dynasty” spin-off.

    To this, I am tempted to add Brainiac, who appears to have recently been written out, with a lot of potential still to be explored; however, I have a vague recollection that he came back in the later seasons. His status as an example “depends”.

    (To go through all the characters of non-trivial importance would take far too long.)

  6. There are great continuity and compatibility problems with other portions of the franchise. This is, of course, not the least unexpected, but a better job could have been done without compromises to the story lines.
  7. The (non-score) music is unusually weak. The (pop/rock song) theme music, in particular, barely survived the first episode, and I almost consistently skipped ahead rather than listening to this earsore. (Mark Snow, who was with the show, could have written a better theme blindfolded.)

Straining my memory concerning the remaining seasons, it seemed to go further downhill, including a highly pre-mature and anti-canon death of Lex Luthor, much too much Green Arrow, and no saving graces. However, these memories might be faulty.

As an interesting aside, it appeared to me that the episodes featuring “traditional” DC heroes, even apart from Green Arrow, were usually sub-average, as with e.g. Aquaman and the Flash.

Excursion on soap vs. drama:
Apart from the typical difference in quality, what makes a drama into a soap? I am hard pressed to give a better answer than “I know it, when I see it”. However, some pointers for when it is soap include shallower characters, over-acting and/or overly emotional acting, weaker character-consistency, plausibility bending events*, large amounts of gratuitous sex (does not apply to “Smallville”), constant switches in romantic/sexual partners, and extreme changes in emotions. Lana staring into the eyes of Clark with a quivering lip for five minutes per episode, taken alone, might be enough to pollute the show. Then add in all the rest …

*Relative the baseline of the show’s alleged reality (and making some allowance for typical TV naivete and exaggeration): That Clark Kent can lift a truck is compatible with the reality of “Smallville”, through the premise that he has superpowers, and not indicative of a soap. If JR would have done the same through a sudden adrenaline rush as he tried to save whomever, it would not just be soap—it would be daily soap. The most famous incident is likely the whole “Bobby was dreaming an entire season” issue. (Someone in real-life might conceivably, maybe, dream a TV season, but it is bound to be extraordinarily rare, and it is obvious that this ploy was just an attempt to retcon at all costs and against all plausibility.)

To this, adding “disproportionately many rich and/or disproportionately rich characters”, “corporate intrigue”, whatnot, is tempting. However, this could depend strongly on the sub-genre of soap and they can have legitimate uses in non-soap dramas.

Excursion on franchises:
Another complaint of mine has been over-extended franchises. “Smallville” is arguably a good example of a series better not made, at least after the first few seasons. Then again, it is unlikely to be the worst example around Superman, let alone DC or superheroes in general.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 29, 2021 at 5:44 pm

Follow-up: Westworld

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A while back, I wrote very positively about the TV-series “Westworld”. We are now some part into the third season, and I am no longer watching. The strengths of the first two seasons are largely gone; the new story lines have so far not been impressive, ditto their execution; many strong characters and actors have been written out or (characters) been severely altered, with insufficient replacement; … Nothing against Aaron Paul, but he is not (yet?) on the level of Ed Harris and Anthony Hopkins. Interesting philosophical questions have been replaced with almost hackneyed dystopia scares* relating to e.g. surveillance and demonstrations of how-easy-I-can-kill-you. The last scene that I (partially) watched struck me as simultaneously almost silly and trying too hard to be dramatic (episode 3 / Caleb, Dolores, the milkshake, and whatnot).

*Which is not necessarily to say that they will turn out to be wrong or that I do not share similar concerns, but it is just variations of what others have already done the last few years.

Written by michaeleriksson

April 1, 2020 at 4:57 pm


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The TV series “Westworld” has impressed me immensely. The first season is possibly the best single TV season that I have ever seen, because of its combination of entertainment value and food-for-thought (although much of the “food’ covered ground already familiar to me). The second is weaker, especially through failing to add much new* thought, but is still stronger than most of what can be found elsewhere.

*Examples include means vs. ends and whether the pigs are better than the farmers.

“Westworld” is also strong proof that it is not the medium but the content that matters: here there is no need to make excuses for watching TV instead of reading a great book. It is also a proof that it is not necessarily the “high concept” that matters, but what is done with it (as with e.g. “Star Trek Next Generation”). Where the movie (in my vague recollection) was fairly shallow entertainment, the TV series has true depth—“The Truman Show” meets Asimov.

During my first watching of season 1, a few years ago, I put down a lot of keywords for a text, but never got around to writing it, the scope of the intended text being discouragingly large. Most of the below is formed formed through expansion of a subset of these keywords into a less ambitious text. Even with my recent second watching of the first (and first watching of the second) season, I have to make reservations for a mis-remembering of what I wanted to say. Some keywords are left as is, because they are fairly self-explanatory.

Among the food-for-thought we have:

  1. What is the nature of existence, free will, perception, memory?

    As an aside: while I do not suggest that we live in a similar world, merely that this is food for thought, I have often had the nagging suspicion that I am part of some weird cosmic experiment or “The Truman Show” situation, where someone tries to push the limit for what absurdities I am willing to consider real. A simpler, and more plausible, explanation is that humans really are that stupid, irrational, self-centered, whatnot. Similarly, a rats-in-a-labyrinth, “Westworld”, or “Matrix” style setup could easily explain e.g. the theodice problem, but the simpler explanation is the absence of deities in favor of nature taking its semi-random course.

  2. What makes an intelligent entity? When should rights and/or personhood be awarded: Turing-test*, sentience, consciousness, level of intelligence, …

    *And to what degree is a Turing-test effective and useful?

  3. What rights and duties should be awarded to a godlike and/or creator being? (And to what degree does this depend on his status, per se, and his other characteristics?) Rulers in general? Parents? Etc.
  4. What should ethics and law say on the humans vs. robots (or vs. AI) situation? (Note some overlap with the previous item.) This including questions, not limited to robots, like if we have the ability to e.g. induce pain or suffering, plant bad memories (or memories, at all) or scrub memories, prevent self-development, …, when, if at all, do we have the right to do so?

Several keywords relate to the apparent gods (i.e. humans) and the paradoxical and/or odd state on the “inside”, including how paradoxically weak the gods are relative their subjects in some regards, while still having godlike or quasi-magical powers in other regards, e.g. in being able to “freeze” a host at will. Similarly, there is the paradox of the ever young and in some sense immortal hosts vs. the aging and highly mortal gods.* The angle that the creation, freed from artificial restraints, would be superior to the creator is particularly interesting, and will likely be true for humans vs. e.g AI in the long term.** (Of course, this state of the inferior being in charge of the superior is not unusual in the real world, where e.g. many dumber teachers are intellectually inferior to the brighter students and many stupid politicians make decisions over the head of genius citizens.)

*Indeed, in season two, attempts are revealed to replicate a human mind within a host body, with the intention of functional immortality for humans.

**In turn, raising the question whether we should follow the road of resistance, as in a sci-fi movie; engage in identity politics/racism/sexism/whatnot, as the current U.S. Left; or whether we should let the creation take over. From at least some angles, the latter is likely the most reasonable, and one reason why I do not enjoy the “Terminator” movies is my suspicion that humanity is the greater evil and that it might be for the better if the terminators were successful. (Again: humans are that stupid, etc.)

Other “god” issues are how the gods are divided into several groups, including regular guests, crew, management, whatnot, and how the hosts are controlled by Ford even as they attempt to rebel, raising questions as to how much of a rebellion it was. (Theological analogs are by no means impossible: What, e.g., if God meant for Adam and Eve to eat the apple or for Judas to betray Jesus to ensure that some set of events took place? Generally, the thought-experiment of mapping some religion to a “Westworld”-style setting is interesting.)

There were good examples of how sympathies are based on appearances and superficial behavior, rather than substance, as with William (aka the young “man in black”) and his interest in Dolores, which is an obvious great danger in real life. (I am uncertain whether I had such sympathies myself towards characters on the show when I wrote the keywords; however, I do know that I can be somewhat susceptible in the short-term. In the long-term, my observations of behavior and values take over, but this does not necessarily seem to be the case with others, which has lead to me having radically different estimates of some people than the majority has had.)

I spent some time considering the possibility of building a superior humanity: smarter, better memory, stronger, … (As well as long-standing wishes of mine—a conscious control over sleep phases and a built-in volume control for the ears or ear-equivalent.) A very disturbing possibility, however, is the abuse of similar systems to e.g. ensure conformity of opinion: for instance, looking at current U.S. colleges, it would be unsurprising if someone were to mandate the implant of the “right” opinions for someone to even be admitted. Or consider a “Harrison Bergeron” scenario, where someone with a natural advantage in some area has the corresponding control adjusted to limit his ability to the maximum available to the average person. (Note e.g. how the hosts intelligence was normally artificially limited, while Maeve’s had been set to the maximum available to her.)

To the IT specialist, “Westworld” is a great illustration of the limits of security, and how even small freedoms might ultimately be used for e.g. privilege escalation to reach great freedoms (cf. Maeve’s development). However, this is not strictly limited to IT: to some degree, similar effects might be available in real life, e.g. in a prison setting.

Some remaining keywords:

  1. extremely intelligent, well-shot/cinematographic, extra-ordinary cast
  2. well-crafted hiding of the two different time-periods
  3. complex network of known and, more importantly, unknown relationships and history
  4. interesting mixture of genres
  5. gratuitous sex scenes*

    *I did not pay attention to this when I re-watched the first season; however, I did not notice much during the second season. This might be a point where the second season was ahead.

Excursion on the first vs. the second season:
Pin-pointing the exact (relative) weaknesses is hard without a repeat watching, but, speaking off the top of my head, the main problem is staleness, too much of the same ground, too much of the same issues. For instance, the alternative “Maeve escapes” scenario would likely have made for a much better attempt at variation than the “prisoners rebel” scenario that was chosen. Here the adventures of Maeve coping in the “outside” world, etc., could have made up a great source of both variation of action and new thought, while the “inside” world could have gone on roughly as before (at least, for the duration of the season).

I can see the point behind the “prisoners rebel” scenario, but it did not work that well; ultimately, we had the same setting and largely similar configurations of people; and there might simply have been too little worthwhile material to cover an entire season, instead of two or three episodes, in the rebellion it self. (Implying that too much filler was present.)

An interesting difference is the use of a jumbled time-line: in the first season, this was used to great effect; in the second, it was mostly a source of confusion with little value added. (A partial exception was Bernard’s journey.)

The last episode strikes me as dissatisfying and contorted, and a poor setup for a continuation. (Notwithstanding that the action seems set to play more on the “outside” for the third season. The manner is simply too different from the “Maeve escapes” scenario.) A particular mistake might have been speaking too explicitly about free-will (either the viewer has got the point already, or he wastes his time with the show) and, possibly, jumping into fallacious reasoning about free will: Free will ceases to be free when it is manipulated from the outside, not because the inner mechanisms have a deterministic character. These inner mechanisms are not a force upon us—they are how we are “implemented”. (An interesting, and in my eyes problematic, border-line case are influences that would often be considered “inner” but disturb the normal state, as when someone grows hungry. Certainly, I would consider these a greater limit on free will than e.g. a deterministic brain.)

Generally, parts of the second season had a bit of “Lost”-y feeling—a series that could have been truly great, but which collapsed on account of too much confusion, mysticism, unnatural story-lines, whatnot. (And, yes, I am aware that J. J. Abrams of “Lost”, and the ruiner of “Star Trek” and “Star Wars”, has been involved with “Westworld” too.)

Excursion on changing franchises:
The recurring reader might see my complaint of staleness as inconsistent with e.g. a text motivated by “iZombie” and its deterioration: would I not prefer a series that remained the same? To some degree, I do find myself reevaluating this stance, especially because my own book plans have come to involve considerable changes from book to book (within a potential book series). To some degree, the claims are compatible: the second season of “Westworld” failed to truly repeat the strengths of the first season (and did not add new strengths). Once it failed at that, the level of constancy or variation on the surface is less important: my original message is not that a franchise should have each installment be a carbon copy of the previous, but that it should play to its strengths. (I have also spoken positively about innovation in e.g. a text on “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”.)

An interesting twist, however, is that the end of the first season left me fearing similar developments as with “iZombie”, where an irrevocable change pretty much killed the series through changing the world too much. With “Westworld” the changes might have been irrevocable and have, in some ways, turned the world on its head, but very similar story lines and ideas could continue with little damage. (Note, e.g., that even during the first season, few guests had any non-trivial impact on the story-lines. Off the top of my head, we might have had no more than the “the man in black” in the “now”, and him and his future brother-in-law in the past. Story-lines in the past can continue with little regard for changes in the now and (in the now) “the man in black” continued as usual. In contrast, had the first season been highly guest-focused, e.g. on a “guest of the week” basis, the rebellion could have been highly damaging.)

Written by michaeleriksson

December 28, 2019 at 10:44 pm