They create worlds: Disco Elysium

One of the things that video games can do magnificently is create worlds. These posts are an occasional exploration of games that I love because of where they take me.

The moment I wake up, I know that something is amiss. My reptilian brain and my limbic system talk to me, one in a snarling, jagged voice, the other in a hoarse, high-pitched whisper. They urge me, mock me, lead me astray – but who is this “me” they’re talking to? I drag my sorry body to the bathroom and look at myself in the fogged-up mirror – and there is no moment of recognition. I see my face, and it could be anyone’s. I’m a blank – and like a blank, I’m there to be filled with personality and meaning and purpose.

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More series business

How many different series can a person watch and still keep them all apart? Right now we’re watching Angel, House  M.D., Carnivale and Heroes and Grey’s Anatomy, I’m rewatching Six Feet Under, Battlestar Galactica and Life on Mars, we’ve just finished Fringe and we’re waiting to continue The Sopranos and Buffy. Well, at least no one can accuse me of being a total elitist snob when it comes to telly series…

I enjoyed Fringe because it fulfilled my post-X-Files FBI-investigating-weird-shit cravings. Is it a good series? Not particularly – it’s repetitive, some of the acting is dubious and with half the episodes I think that I’ve seen them before, only Mulder and Scully did them better. It’s great turn-off-your-brain TV fast-food, though, and I’m looking forward to more Leonard Nimoy in season 2. “It’s all lies. But they’re entertaining lies. And in the end, isn’t that the real truth?” (Damn you, YouTube, for not having a clip of that scene!)

The answer is, "No."

Grey’s Anatomy has been something of a guilty pleasure of mine, and throughout much of season 4 it wasn’t all that much of a pleasure, to be honest. The series’ problem – well, main problem – is that they’ve got a number of very good actors and even the middling actors know their parts by now, but the writing (especially with respect to character development) covers the whole range from maudlin to obvious to plain bad, with the occasional strong scene. If the series could decide to be a comedy, it wouldn’t matter that most of the characters are written to be highly unprofessional so much of the time (typical example: some patient is dying and needs urgent care, and doctor X decides that this is the right moment to ask doctor Y why they didn’t have sex the previous night – remind me not to get ill in TV Seattle…). It takes very good writing to make the constant jumps from quirky comedy to serious (melo)drama work if the characters aren’t to come across as nincompoops at the mercy of the script. Season 5 had many of those weaknesses, but it had enough strong moments to keep me watching. Still, there are some developments and storylines that just annoy the hell out of me: a resident at a big Seattle hospital going more or less bankrupt from one day to the next because Daddy cuts her trust fund? Swapping one interesting lesbian character for cute but eternally bland blondie because you want eye candy rather than an actual character? Derek Shepard yet again going all pompously self-righteous, and still no one takes one of those circular saws to his perfectly coiffed head?

If we all gang up and stab him with scalpels, it shouldn't take too long...

In the meantime, I’m rather enjoying where Angel season 3 is taking us. Yes, there were a couple of false steps – Gunn and Wesley going all mooney over Fred wasn’t cute, it was just annoying, and having it go on for several episodes made me want to go Angelus on them all – but it’s fascinating to see how Angel, Cordelia and especially Wesley develop during the season. Just 2-3 more episodes to go until season 4 – and I’m ignoring all those people who say that it’s one of the worst seasons ever in the Whedonverse, because it’s something we have to get through before season 5 and “Smile Time” and the (wait for it) bitter-sweet finale. (Yes, Lucy, I put that there just for you…)

Oh, before I forget: gotta love this recent article in The Onion: Next Tarantino Movie An Homage To Beloved Tarantino Movies Of Director’s Youth.

Fight, fight, fight, fight, fight, fight, fight. How many fights is that? A lot.

And finally: I’ll be writing a weekly entry at The Best Shows You’re Not Watching, alternating between Six Feet Under and Life on Mars. You can find the first one here. Let me know what you think!

SoCal, baby! (Shoot me now…)

In case you were wondering: I haven’t abandoned you or the internet or my “way too late to be of any relevance whatsoever” blog. I’ve just been away, and still am. For the first time in my life, I’m not just witnessing the sheer bigness (biggitude?) of the United States of Thingamy through the TV screen – I’m in San Diego, enjoying the sun, the zoo, the predominantly Democrat people, the 24-hour shop at the gas station that sells juices made up of broccoli, spinach and garlic that nevertheless taste pretty damn good.

I’ve also made it to the fabled American movie theatre, and the first and most important thing to report is this: they show about 2 1/2 times as many trailers as they do back home! (That’s it, I’m moving here…) Okay, the number of trailers may not quite make up for the film that followed them in this instance…

As I may or may not have mentioned earlier, I’m not a Western fan as such… but some films and series that I like a lot happen to be Westerns. I like what you can do with a well established genre – such as showing up the genre’s limitations and giving alternate readings of its archetypes. I love Deadwood and The Assassination of is anyone still reading this title or have you already jumped to the end of the italics? is one of my favourite films of the last couple of years.

Appaloosa, Ed Harris’ second film as a director, could have been made 60 years ago, with little changes. It’s old fashioned. That in itself isn’t bad. What is a shame is that the film becomes way too comfortable with itself, to the point where, even when bad things happen, there is no urgency to the story at all. There’s too much there that is utterly predictable. And most of the characters have the emotional maturity of sitcom characters.

As a result, I sat there thinking, “Nice acting, but I don’t really care.” I didn’t care whether Harris’ character and Renée Zellweger’s golddigger would end up with each other and be happy. I didn’t much care whether any of the protagonists would die before the end. The few bits that made me look up with interest – the quasi-domestic relationship between Harris and Mortensen before it’s broken up by, gosh darn!, a woman is quite nice, and the film’s nicely aware of Harris’ character being rather thick at the best of times – were nice enough, but the overriding thought on my mind as I left the cinema was: “I wonder how many episodes of Deadwood season 4 this could have financed…”

On a slightly different note: Watched the premiere of the US Life on Mars. Was left with a deeply felt confusion as to why to do this remake and a mixture of pity for Harvey Keitel (he looked like he wanted to be somewhere else) and annoyance with him (if he doesn’t want to be there, why is he taking up the space?). I have no problem with remakes on principle – but if they’re as pointless, and joyless, as this one I have to wonder: “How many episodes of Deadwood…?”

(A Matter of) Life (and Death) on Mars

Okay, that pseudo-clever title has already pretty much taken it out of me… Last night we watched the final episode of Life on Mars. There was definitely some good material in there, some very atmospheric bits – but on the whole, it struck me as a cop-out. They didn’t seem to have the courage to go with the ambiguity they’d evoked and instead ended on what felt like a reprise of the season 1 finale.

***Spoilers to follow! Don’t say I didn’t warn you!*** 

Sam’s decision to go back to, or stay in, 1973 by means of (real? dreamed? imaginary?) suicide was sold to us as the right decision, but that just doesn’t gel with Sam’s ambivalence (to say it mildly) about the past he was stuck in. He comes out of the coma (or not – there were hints either way, but nothing that suggests the writers really thought about it) and no longer feels at home in the 21st century? That’s okay: it makes sense, since he’s been in this other reality for so long, and it’s interesting for the character. But don’t try to tell us that the best of all possible solutions is for him to choose the immature, made-for-TV Boys’ Adventure that is Hunting with Hunt. Don’t dangle ambiguity in front of us and then say, “But it’s all okay, because 2007 means boring meetings about grey areas, but 1973 means driving too fast, beating up suspects and feeling good and manly about it!”

The sad thing is, the ending could have been much, much worse. It could have been much more hackneyed. But it gave in to the infatuation with Gene Hunt, as did Sam. And I guess that in the end, I felt that there could have been more to the series than “DI Tyler, or How I stopped worrying and learned to love that misogynist, racist, homophobic dinosaur Gene Hunt (and you can, too!)”.

Ah well. This means that now we can get started on Battlestar Galactica season 3. Yay!

A season too far…

We watched another two episodes of the second season of Life on Mars yesterday, and while they were more enjoyable than a couple of the ones earlier this season, they still felt like variations on a theme – and minor variations at that. The impression I got was that they had material for a total of eight or nine episodes, at most. Instead they decided to stretch it to two seasons and 14 episodes altogether, and as a result much of the impact was lost. This could have been a little gem of a series, and instead it turned out to be an okay execution of a clever premise, extended past its sell-by date.

You doity rat (redux)

Quite a few series are milked, the episodes becoming tired, stale rehashes of earlier material. Even fans say that The Simpsons have been going on for too long (although they also argue that the last season has been a marked improvement). Same seems to go for Spooks (another BBC series by Kudos, the producers of Life on Mars), Buffy (I’ve seen few defenses of season 7), The X-Files or most of the Star Trek series.

And then you get series that are killed untimely. Firefly and Deadwood come to mind, but I’m sure there are other examples as well. (Futurama, perhaps, ending with one of the best episodes of the entire series, but it’s being revived right now, so I’ll wait and see.) Series that, quite simply put, had much more to say. Series that quite often also expected something from the viewer, that made demands – for instance, that you tuned in every week. You can’t really tell a good, sustained story if viewers may look in once a month, at best.

Death by trampoline?

To be honest, I can only think of a handful of series that managed to end when they should have. Six Feet Under is a candidate. M*A*S*H, perhaps, although the jury’s out on whether the series maintained its quality, got better, or simply got smug and self-righteous. Most people loved “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen”, but there are some who hated it with a vengeance for being Alan Alda’s soapbox.

I guess that, given the choice, most fans would prefer more material of their favourite series even at the price of diminishing quality. But it is frustrating to see them putting out yet another cop series or medical soap but at the same time not allowing more complex, more ambitious – and, admittedly, less audience-friendly – material the breathing space it needs.