Silence of the blog

I’m afraid that this year autumn and the onset of winter got to me, much more than in other years and surprisingly so. The result was that the cold, grey weather sapped my physical as well as mental energy – which meant no blogging for the weary. Can’t say that my energy’s back, but I’m hoping to use this post as a gentle kick in the backside. Since it’s been a while, I thought I’d do a Variety Pack of sorts, on TV series for a change, so without much further ado…

Orphan Black

Orphan BlackI read the AV Club reviews of this one when it showed in the States; even though it was a BBC co-production the Beeb only showed it months later. The AV Club gang loved Orphan Black, and there is a lot to like about this sci-fi-ish conspiracy thriller, first and foremost Tatiana Maslany. Her playing several different characters isn’t flawless, relying a bit too much (especially at the beginning) on dodgy accents and costume choices, but as she gets into the parts she quickly becomes the series’ main asset. By the fifth episode I wasn’t thinking about the seamlessness of the special effects any more – I just accepted that there were several clone characters on screen who all looked more or less the same but were totally different in most ways. The plot, while perhaps too convoluted for its own good, definitely drives the series along to its conclusion/cliffhanger. Having said all of this, though, I’m not sure Orphan Black deserves the hyperbolic praise it received on the other side of the Atlantic: in terms of tone, it’s not altogether surefooted, and various characters – even the occasional clone – remain flat, uninteresting and even annoying. I’m intrigued for season 2, but it’s nowhere near the top of my list of favourite series. Entertaining, yes, but I’m glad I didn’t go for the box set.

Sports Night

Is there a TV writer as readily recognisable as Aaron Sorkin? In some ways, Sports Night feels almost like someone has fed the writer’s mannerisms into a computer and turned up the Aaron-o-meter to 150%. The cast is more than capable, but even for someone who loved The West Wing the series can be formulaic as well as overbearingly smug and self-satisfied. Still, there are moments when it clicks – mostly thanks to the likes of Peter Krause, Felicity Huffman and the rest of the cast. (And yes, there are moments when the series brings out the worst in its composer, the improbably named W.G. Snuffy Walden.) Would I have watched The West Wing if I’d started with this? I’m not sure – but there are worse ways to while away 22 minutes.

And just for the heck of it, here are seven minutes of Sorkinisms:

Real Humans

I was a bit wary of this one; there was a big brouhaha in newspapers when they started showing it here, but to me as a former(ish) sci-fi geek it all sounded rather “been there, done that”, with the main inspirations being Asimov and Blade Runner. We’re now six episodes into the first season, and while the ideas in the series may not be the most original to anyone who’s been following the genre, that’s beside the point. Being Human takes a page out of True Blood‘s book, looking at what our society might look like if this one foreign element (androids in the case of the former, vampires in the latter) were to be introduced into it – but differently from True Blood it shows relatively little interest in its lore. Instead, there are elements of allegory, but never to the extent where the series’ so-called ‘hubots’ become a facile stand-in for oppressed group X. The social critique and satire are balanced by a plot that keeps things going smoothly and by characters that are fun to watch, from the sad-sack who, after being left by his wife, blames all his misfortune on the machines to the icy renegade hubot leader who’d give Rutger Hauer a run for his money.

Real Humans

And that’s it for now. I hereby solemnly promise that it won’t be as long yet again before my next post!

Blood Wing? True West? Something along those lines…

Since Switzerland is behind the rest of the world in all things pop culture, we’ve only just finished watching the first season of True Blood. Now, for those of you who have been following my HBO fetishism for a while, this will come as a bit of a surprise, but… I thought that True Blood was nothing much to write home about. It was entertaining enough, but I wouldn’t give the best episode of the series for the worst of Deadwood, The Wire or Six Feet Under, that other Alan Ball series. (I might be willing to exchange any episode of True Blood for that episode of The Sopranos where Tony meets his father’s mistress. Shudder…)

One major problem with the series, at least from my point of view, is that the main characters are much less interesting than the side characters that wander in for a couple of episodes. Bill and Sookie (or “Sookaaah!”, as Bill might put it) are okay, as are Sam, Tara, Jason and all the others, but I never really cared all that much about what was going to happen to them. On the other hand, I cared about poor, shlubby, gay vampire Eddie, I cared about psychotic, sexy hippie/murderess Amy, and I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing more of Kurt Kobain lookalike Eric (a charismatic performance by Alexander “Iceman” Skarsgard) or the Magister as played by Zeljko Ivanek.

At the same time, True Blood is almost perfect fare for a tired evening after a day at the office. It’s fun, it’s nice to look at, and that title tune always gets my toes twitching. Now, if only it was on offer as a downloadable track for Rock Band

We’re also almost at the end of the first season of The West Wing. It took me an episode or two to forget that the guy playing the President had also been Greg Stillson in David Cronenberg’s film version of The Dead Zone, i.e. not a man you’d want anywhere near the White House, but now I’m okay with Prez Jed Bartlett sitting in the Oval Office.

So far I’m enjoying the series a lot, although it’s pretty much the opposite of True Blood – intelligent writing, heavy on words and ideas, and very little in the way of graphic sex, fangs, shapeshifters and blood. It does, however, have Allison Janney, an actress who I’ve come to like a lot. If I had to single out one of the characters from the series as my favourite one, it’d be her C.J. Gregg. Janney is as pitch-perfect with scenes of political drama as she is with understated humour and outright goofiness.

It’s amazing, though, how bad most of the characters on the series are when it comes to interpersonal relationships that aren’t primarily defined by work. They make great colleagues (when they’re not making vicious fun of you after a root canal) – they seem to make for lousy boy- and girlfriends (though mostly boyfriends). Déformation professionelle, I guess.