Category : TV and film

Kinda Sorta Weird

I became a Doctor Who fan when I was 13. I wish I could say it was love at first sight, but it wasn’t. But when I fell for it, I fell hard.

This was back in the Before Times, when you couldn’t buy episodes of TV shows. You either caught them when they aired (or were lucky enough to own a VCR that you could program to record when it aired) or you missed it. This was also before many of the 1960s episodes of Doctor Who had been recovered and were aired in the US. Basically, if you came into the show, you were jumping onto the middle car of a passing train and relying on fellow passengers and your own sense of direction to find your way around.

My friend Marc was a big fan of the show and invited me over to his house to watch it. I don’t remember how much he explained about what the show was and I don’t remember much of what we watched. I remember it was a Tom Baker story (which was shown as one long episode, since many PBS stations that showed Doctor Who, including our station in Kansas City, had all of the individual episodes of a serial spliced into one “Doctor Who movie”) and I remember not really getting into it or following it. And then my mom and brother began taking karate lessons on Friday nights and I didn’t go along with them (which is weird in retrospect, since studying a martial art was something I’d been interested in, but who can figure out the brain of a 13-year-old?), so I settled in front of the television with a Swanson’s TV dinner in front of me on a TV tray and flipped through the channels to see what was on. I landed on our PBS station just as the announcer said, “Coming up, a new Doctor Who movie: ‘Kinda’!” (Pronounced “kin-da”, like “cin-da-rella.”) Because Marc loved the show, I figured I’d give it another shot and at least watch the beginning. A very different opening sequence from the one I’d seen before started, with a cool, synthy scream leading into a New Wave-ish theme while the starry vastness of space hurtled at me. I was mesmerized. (more…)

Sebastião’s Adventure

I once had a dream about a movie adaptation of a book that’s never been written, and the movie went like this:

An orphan boy named Sebastião lives with a troupe of traveling performers, a carnival of sorts. The troupe is presided over by an old woman everyone simply calls “Mamãe.” Mamãe spends most of her time cooking and cleaning, but also keeping track of the troupe’s finances, making sure everyone in the troupe is happy, and dispensing motherly advice when needed. She may not be everyone’s real mother, but she certainly acts like she is.

One day, the troupe arrives in a small, dusty town in the back country. The town is mostly ramshackle buildings of wood planks and sheets of tin. The troupe sets up their tents and carts right in the town, settling into some abandoned houses as well. They quickly become friendly with the townsfolk while they prepare for a run of performances.

A magician lives in town. He’s never been on a big stage or in a big city. His performances are strictly local, for very little money, if any at all. He seethes with jealousy at the arrival of the performing troupe. They live the life he’s always wanted and now they’ve moved into his performance territory. How dare they! He struts through the town in his black tuxedo and black cape, daring the performers to challenge him to some sort of theatrical duel, but he’s ignored by both the visiting troupe and his fellow townsfolk. This makes him even angrier.

Sebastião is intrigued by the magician. The troupe has many different performers, but no magician, and the boy has always been fascinated by magic. He follows the magician through town, moving like a small shadow, slipping through streets and alleys as agile as a cat, unseen by the angry magician.

Sebastião trails the magician as the man sneaks into the troupe’s lodgings. He watches as the magician looks for a way to sabotage the troupe’s performances. The boy lets out a little gasp when he sees Mamãe walk in to discover the magician. “Who are you?” Mamãe asks. “What are you doing here?” The magician says nothing, shocked into silence. Mamãe looks him up and down. “Are you a performer?” she asks him. He nods. “Come with me.” She grabs his gloved hand and leads him to her kitchen. Sebastião follows silently.

In the middle of the kitchen is a huge, wood table, covered with onions, cabbages, and carrots. “I’m making a soup,” she tells the magician. “Help me chop the vegetables.” She hands him a large chopping knife. The two of them chop up the onions, the cabbages, the carrots. While they work, Mamãe questions him more. “What kind of performer are you?”

“I’m a magician,” he stammers out.

“Are you any good?” she asks.

“Well,” he says, clearing his throat dramatically, “I believe I am. But I’ve never made it out of this region. Sadly, my reputation has never made it as far as the big cities.”

“Huh,” Mamãe grunts. They continue chopping in silence, until Mamãe says, “Would you like to join our troupe? We don’t have a magician among us, but we could use one. We’d be happy to have you.”

The magician stops cutting, stunned at the offer. He looks up at Mamãe, perhaps to see if she’s making him a serious offer or just teasing him. She looks up at him. They look each other in the eyes. Sebastião sees it flowing between them like waves of hot, summer air: a sudden connection of love. Mamãe sees within the man a tremendous loneliness, a fear of dying alone and forgotten. The magician sees within Mamãe a powerful ocean of love she is happy to share with everyone. He could swim in that ocean for the rest of his life. He could drown in it, but he knows Mamãe would never let him drown.

Sebastião runs out from where he’s hiding, grabs the magician by the hand, and says, “Please, stay with us! Stay with us! Teach me magic so I can grow up to be a magician, too!” The boy is bursting with excitement. The magician looks down at Sebastião’s grinning, beaming face. He looks up at Mamãe’s face, so full of love and kindness.

He nods, slowly at first, but then more vigorously. “Yes,” he says, “I’ll join your troupe.”

Mamãe smiles warmly at him, then shakes her head and chuckles, looking back at her vegetables. “It’s not going to be easy,” she says. “The roads we travel are rough, our performances not always welcome. Our troupe is often like a family, squabbling and feuding.” She hacks a large cabbage in half. “But I think you’re making the right decision.”

All Good Things…

I’ve been watching the entire run of Sapphire & Steel recently and just watched the final story, which is weird even for this show, with an ending that is pretty mindblowing and a definitive way to end the series.

(If you’re not familiar with Sapphire & Steel, it’s a British SF show that ran from 1979-1982 and starred David McCallum and Joanna Lumley. It’s pretty much like classic Doctor Who with 90% fewer special effects and 90% less explanation of what the fuck is going on. If David Lynch did Doctor Who, you’d have Sapphire & Steel.)

Aaaaaanyway, the end of the final story remind me of a thought I had after getting to the end of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, which was, “What if ongoing comic book and TV series were written like novels, with specific beginnings and endings?” What if Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had written Superman comics as if they were an adaptation of an epic SF series of novels, and after five or ten years of stories in Action Comics and his own solo title, the stories built up to a dramatic conclusion that tied everything (or most things, at least) up. And then it was over. Same with Batman, Captain Marvel, Captain America, the Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, the Spirit, and so on. There could be sequels and spin-offs, but it would also leave room for new characters and stories, while also leaving behind seminal “graphic novels” that could stand with Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 as classics that inspired later generations of stories. (John Byrne’s Superman & Batman: Generations trilogy of limited series is a terrific example of an epic superhero series where time passes normally, instead of legacy characters barely aging from decade to decade, and the stories build to definitive endings.)

I’m not knocking ongoing, never-ending, legacy characters. Besides Dr. Seuss books, the earliest things I read that made a big impression on me were ongoing legacy superhero comics. (Coming in on long-running series like superhero comics and Doctor Who is, I think, a big reason why I love in medias res and am frequently bored by origin stories. Throw me into the middle of a story and let me figure out who the characters are and what’s going on. Let me be confused at first. It’s all good.) But the longer a series goes on, a series with no long-term plan and no ending in sight, the more you have stories repeat themselves and the more protective companies are of the financially-secure status quo, so any changes to a character (Lois Lane finally figures out that Clark Kent is Superman and they get married) are almost always changed back to the status quo (or the changes are made irrelevant to the overall series, still protecting the status quo). There’s also the problem of the difficulty level for new readers to jump into a series with so much backstory (unless they’re like me and enjoy coming in at the middle point). Reboots are an attempt to solve this problem, but so far, that hasn’t shown to be much of a solution.

On the television front, Babylon 5 was the first SF show to be plotted and executed as a five-year series with a beginning, middle, and end, and while it wasn’t always consistently great, having a story that was constructed like a novel on TV worked in its favor. The various Star Trek series, starting with Star Trek: The Next Generation, haven’t always had the kind of “there is no status quo to protect” that Babylon 5 had, but they’ve all had definitive endings that, while variable in quality, worked to tie up the series and put a cap on them, which I think ultimately made them stronger. On the other hand, I started watching The Simpsons when it first premiered–over 25 years ago. I was a big fan for a long time, but I eventually lost interest because the show has just kept going but I wasn’t seeing anything new to keep me interested. I’m a massive Doctor Who fan, but after 26 years of the classic series and nine of the new show, I’m starting to feel fatigue setting in (and as much as I’d like to, I can’t blame it all on current showrunner Steven Moffat). When the original actor became too ill to continue in the role, the writers and producers came up with the imaginative idea of the character being able to regenerate his body into a new form, played by a new actor. Somewhere along the line, it was established that the Doctor could do this a total of 13 times, but when the last actor, Matt Smith, was leaving the show and it was revealed that he was technically the last regeneration, they wrote in a kind of escape clause that allowed them to change it so that the Doctor can once again regenerate any number of times, and the show never really has to end. But what if it did? What if they built everything up to an ending that finished the series for good. There wouldn’t be any new Doctor Who episodes, sure, but there would be around 36 seasons of shows to rewatch and enjoy, without the pressure of coming up with new stories that aren’t repeating the old and aren’t based in so much past continuity that it makes it difficult for new viewers to come in and understand everything that’s going on.

Like I said, I do still love reading and watching the adventures of legacy characters and franchises. But I also think stories with a definitive ending (even if the ending is “And the Adventure Continues…” or a total mind screw like the endings of The Prisoner and Sapphire & Steel) are stronger than stories that are written to never end. (Although series written towards a definite ending are not always successful. I’m looking at you, How I Met Your Mother. *) And I think the only real reason to have ongoing, neverending series is to keep the money coming in. Since I’m not a businessperson, I care far less about the money a story generates than I do about the strength of a story.

And…okay, I started this post without any idea of how I was going to finish it, so…I’m just going to stop writing and race off to my next exploit. The adventure continues…

* When the finale of How I Met Your Mother first aired, I liked the ending (unlike a lot of people), even though it completely flipped the expectation the writers had established at the beginning and maintained right up until the end. But the more I thought back on it, the more it felt like an utter betrayal of the audience and a really shitty way to end the story it was supposed to be telling.

The Four Seasons

A little joke popped into my head the other day, and I tweeted:

I got some very clever responses I wasn’t expecting (I never really expect people to respond to my jokes and I’m always pleasantly surprised when people get them and reply in kind), and a friend of mine started riffing back and forth with me until we came up with a show that both of us were really excited about and would seriously watch on TV. (more…)