One planet, one vote!

I did it.

I finally finished Augusten Burroughs’ Running With Scissors. And boy, am I glad.

By the time I got to the last chapter, I no longer hated it. I simply didn’t have the stamina for that. I simply found it boring and annoying – and boringly, annoyingly unfunny. There’s little structure in the novel, so the single episodes could all be jumbled up and re-ordered with little to no effect on the book. There’s barely any character development. I’m sure you can write enjoyable novels without character development or structure, but you have to be a hell of a lot better than Burroughs and your story has to be a hell of a lot more interesting. Up to the very end, I felt I was reading the self-indulgent, self-dramatising journal of a drama queen – admittedly one whose childhood and adolescence (as told) were quite horrible, but suffering in itself does not a good novel make.

Anyway, it’s over, and I’ve now started on Haruki Murakami’s short story collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. I recently read his Kafka on the Shore, which was okay but faltered a lot towards the end, and it suffered a lot from having come after The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which I think is what the Germans surreally call “ein grosser Wurf”. (Roughly translateable as “a great success”; literally, it means “a great throw”, which might make sense if the Germans played baseball.) I enjoyed a lot of Murakami’s earlier short fiction, perhaps mainly because his excursions from the main plot are always fascinating… and in a short story there’s less of a risk that he runs out of steam and the novel peters out. Murakami is a great writer, but endings aren’t his forte.

What else? I’ve played on in Anachronox, and it’s as delightfully inventive as I remember. I’ve just left Democratus, one of the great inventions of the game: a planet that makes Switzerland’s political system look positively efficient. On Democratus, every decision requires a vote. Every decision. And every decision has to be discussed in great detail, so that the planet’s High Council even fails to come to a decision about the 64 lethal missiles aimed its way by an aggressive insect race. But watch for yourselves:

Since few of you are likely to still find the game and play it, I’ll go ahead and spoil some of the further plot for you: after you save Democratus, the Council decides to reward you by having the planet shrunk and joining your party. As Wikipedia puts it, “the most annoying civilization in the universe shrinks their planet to five feet in diameter and begins following the team around.” And there’s little as boggling as the sight of that man-sized planet happily floating after you, squabbling about your every decision.

But is it what you would call ‘series acting’?

I like good acting. Not Oscar-winning acting, which I often think is mainly a case of “who’s best at manipulating the audience?”. That sort of acting tends to feel acutely self-aware, to the extent that I sit there, watching it, being painfully aware of the acting. (And I usually groan when someone says that this or that actor isn’t actually very good because he’s only got two facial expressions. Being able to produce a number of different grimaces doesn’t make for good acting. Watch Ulrich Mühe in The Lives of Others for a beautiful example of acting, based pretty much on the most subtle variations of one facial expression.) 

Ulrich Mühe

Strangely enough, TV series don’t necessarily need good acting to work. Of course, atrocious acting is as painful to watch in series as it is in movies, but limited actors can still work extremely well on television. The good thing about series in this respect is that after a season or so, deeply mediocre actors become the characters. Look at Jonathan Frakes who played Will Riker in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Definitely not a good actor by any standards, and most people would hesitate even to call him mediocre; but by season 3, he was Will Riker. Any wobbles in the performance could be attributed to the character – “Ah, it’s Riker being full of himself! It’s Riker being nervous at meeting the Axitraxian ambassador! It’s Riker having had too much cheese before going to bed!” And somehow, by season 5 or 6 good old Jonathan felt comfortable enough in the part to stretch himself and surprise me with an actual good performance (!) in an episode called “Frames of Mind”.

Watching those HBO series I keep harping on about – The Sopranos, Deadwood, Six Feet Under – I am constantly amazed at the high quality of acting. Thinking back to the series I watched, and loved, as a kid and as an adolescent, though… Most of them had fairly mediocre actors, for instance David Duchovny (although he does make for a great transvestite!). Yet somehow I never felt I was watching Duchovny being mediocre. I very quickly forgot about Duchovny and was simply watching Fox Mulder.

David “Nobody’s perfect” Duchovny

For me, Lost has that very same quality. Some of the acting in Lost is good – Terry O’Quinn comes to mind, for instance. But if you look at it critically, most of it is hackneyed character work. If the series is still remembered in ten, twenty years, it won’t be for the acting. And yet… Half an hour into the pilot, and I bought the characters. I don’t know whether that is a quality of the writing, or the directing, or simply a case of the actors being close enough to the characters not to have to act too much. Perhaps it’s also just chemistry between the cast members. I don’t know. But I know that it’s the characters I keep coming back for – even if Jack is a whiny bitch, Charlie is even more annoying than he was as a hobbit (Pippin at least had the benefit of a Scottish accent – here we’ve got Desmond for that), and Nikki and Paolo deserve a horrible death (preferably something out of E.A. Poe). (Note: We haven’t seen any episodes past “Every Man For Himself” in season 3.)

Two final comments for today: 1) Why is it that the Deadwood women keep ending up on the island? I’m waiting for Alma and Jewel to turn up… 2) Was it very noticeable this was a bit of a filler blog entry? If so, I apologise – and promise that tomorrow’s episode will be better. (In that respect, perhaps my blog is a bit like Lost: a long mid-season slump, but the “huh?!”-inducing revelations at the end of the season will keep all of you coming back. Mwhaha.)