Monday, May 7, 2007


What I'm Watching: More or less the same as before.

Veronica Mars came back from a break with a particularly bad episode about how discrimination is, like, wrong. It isn't so much that I disagree, but when a show does this kind of thing - see also the recent Battlestar Galactica ep with Bruce Davison which was also about how discrimination is wrong - I have to wonder why they even bother. I mean, do the people who make Veronica Mars and Battlestar really think that their audience wants a little civics lesson? Especially simple, cut-and-dried civics lessons like these? The problem with them is that they make it all so easy that it becomes boring: the characters get to do the noble thing and "doing the noble thing" doesn't really cost them anything. There's no drama because their choices turn out to be either (a) really easy and/or (b) free of consequences. Man, how I hate these "very special episodes".

More problems with Veronica: Scene-by-scene, the show has handled the relationship stuff pretty well, but the problem is that the writers have had pretty lame ideas when it comes to the bigger picture. Veronica Mars should not be The O.C., where characters are constantly jumping in-and-out of relationships every other episode. We already had Logan and Veronica breaking-up and getting back together and breaking-up and getting back together again, so, this season they should have tried to show us Veronica and Logan trying to work through their issues - to dramatize a relationship in progress rather than a relationship always on the verge of collapsing or reforming.

Now, about The Sopranos: I've read a bunch of internet critics complaining that Tony's gambling problem came out of nowhere next week and that Chase et al. should have (a) used something else to dramatize Tony losing his grip or (b) spent more time setting-up the gambling stuff. I don't know: I like to nitpick as much as the next blogger, but I think this criticism is off-base. I mean, would you really like The Sopranos better if it were a "well-constructed" show, carefully setting up all of its threads, developing and resolving them on cue, like, say, E.R.? Not a slam at E.R., a show I like quite a bit, but, even when it resolves things in an unexpected manner, it pretty clearly lays out all the conflicts and issues for you. The last three seasons of The Sopranos have been a lot messier. And almost all of the episodes from Season Six have featured some "out of nowhere" element that a more cautious show would have spent some time introducing. Part of why these elements work, for me at least, is that Chase et al. have already laid the groundwork. I mean, I completely buy that Tony would like to gamble, that he'd respond to stress by gambling more, and that his marriage would be vulnerable to the resulting financial strain.

I like that the show makes these big, bold choices, even though it means that sometimes you just have to go along with it.

My personal Sopranos problem recently has been that I don't think Tony Siricco and Stevie Van Zandt are good enough actors to do what the scripts have asked them to do. Sylvio's play for Tony's position from the beginning of this season fell flat for me because it required Van Zandt to do more than just mug, likewise the recent episode that Tony spends gauging Paulie's reliability. Siricco and Van Zandt are both pretty funny and they're good personalities to have around - they add to the show's color - but they don't bring enough to the table as actors to justify the (relative) importance of their characters. I've always though it was a big mistake that Chase et al. had Sylvio kill Adriana because Van Zandt can't really do anything else with it - i.e., can't turn it into something that comes up - or noticeably doesn't come up - in Sylvio's scenes with Christopher.

Finally, the difference between Heroes when it started - stumbling, badly-paced, erratically-acted, but with some good ideas - and Heroes now - written, directed, and acted with assuredness and a sense of style - is (in the debased context of contemporary pop culture) staggering, mainly because most of the time shows go in the opposite direction.

What I'm Reading: It was a bit of a chore to finish The Flying Inn, which didn't quite work for me, although I'm sympathetic to Chesterton's basic philosophy and what he was trying to do with the book.

I'm still reading A Fire Upon the Deep, which, I have to admit, I like a little less than I did 100 or so pages ago. The main problem I have is that there's really no reason for it to be such a long book. Yes, it's full of ideas, but Vinge spends too much time on narratively redundant details that, I guess, are necessary from a world building POV.

I also (finally) read Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy. I always see sci-fi fans recommending Have Spacesuit Will Travel when it comes to RAH's juveniles. I think that book is pretty enjoyable, but Citizen of the Galazy, IMO, would be a better choice: it has a more expansive scope, the world building is more interesting, there isn't too much of the "gee whiz rocketships" vibe, and it strikes me as being more in the mainline of the sci-fi that has come afterwards (esp. "New Space Opera" stuff).

And I'm rereading the Russell Kirk edited Portable Conservative Reader. I've just gotten through the opening section of Edmund Burke excerpts and am tempted to start posting some quotes that are particularly relevant to me and to the themes of this blog.

What I'm Listening To: Lots of classic rock, as I'm sure you could have guessed. Still looking for more podcasts.

What I'm Playing: Some Carcassonne with my fiance and a friend of ours this past weekend, plus more NASCAR 06. Still jonesing for RPGing and getting to the point where I'm actually going to have to, you know, do something about it. I was listening to a Durham 3 podcast today at the gym and that reignited my desire to play Sorcerer.

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