Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Witless Prattle Fall 2011 Viewer's Guide

Well, the notion of me being a taste maker in any way, shape or form is frankly hilarious, as is the notion that posting my TV viewing schedule counts as "content" borders on the laughable. However, as it was nearly a week in-between new posts last week, I can't be too choosy with regards to content, so for the benefit of . . .er . . .I think maybe one of you has genuinely asked me about this, I present to you the Witless Prattle Fall 2011 Viewer's Guide, or "what the kind of person who would write a blog like this watch when he's not blogging about the things he watches which are often TV shows but different."


Top Gear--I'm pretty sure we're rounding the corner on the latest series on BBC America, and this season has been a bit muted in terms of the crazy stunts I watch Top Gear for (no making cars into space shuttles, strapping rockets onto cars and firing them off ski jumps) and doesn't quite have the bite that it used to, but it's still fun and provides a nice palate cleanser for . . .

WWE Monday Night Raw--Hey, thanks CM Punk for demolishing the 4th wall there and triggering an angle that made my watching this show feel a lot less like inertia and more like something I've been genuinely engaged in. And true, two months after Punk's angle has gotten a little bit muddled, there's still some things to enjoy on the show, things like R-Truth's never-ending war against L'il Jimmy, the audience "what-ing" him, and spiders.


Sons of Anarchy--Thankfully, if the season premiere is any indication we're well out of the doldrums of Season 3, which featured a never-ending trek through Ireland and an equally never-ending game of hot potato with a baby. However, the show finally tied that up with a bow at the end of last season, and we seem to be getting back to normal: The Sons are an outlaw motorcycle club, typically up to its necks in things illegal and unethical, the police and the prime movers in the town want to stop them, but may or may not be more corrupt/dangerous than the Sons are.

Oh, and Peg Bundy plays (essentially) Lady Macbeth. You think about that.


Ain't nothin' happening on Wednesday, y'all.


It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia--Oh boy. I can't really adequately describe "Sunny" except as "5 crazy sociopaths are continually unleashed on the world, and boundary-melting hilarity ensues." "Sunny" ended last season on a tremendous high note with their "Lethal Weapon 5" parody last season, as well as that wonderfully blasphemous baby episode they did to close out the last series, I am looking forward to them pushing the boundaries of good taste and sanity ever further backwards this year.

Here's a taste of what I mean:

Archer--Speaking of a gaggle of psychopaths, Archer is back for a brief 3-episode series, but Archer is so witty (in a rather insane sort of way) which I am sure will be full of . . .well, they imploded all the Bond movie cliches a long time ago so, really, whatever they come up with is sure to be awesome. Oh, and Cheryl/Carol will probably get strangled or ask to be strangled sometime. Things just be that way on this show.

Here's what I mean (it's hellaciously NSFW):


Batman: The Brave and the Bold--Eventually Cartoon Network HAS to play those last few episodes, right?

Young Justice--New episodes of this at last, and maybe it'll finally kinda get somewhere. It's shown some promise (generally by being yet another DC cartoon which is altogether more enjoyable and makes better use of DC's accumulated mythos than, say DC Comics) but it's been awfully stingy about filling in its characters (some more than others) and getting this extended plot arc with the Light and everything moving at last. Oh, and the idea of kid superheroes as the JLA's black ops team is so very, very, silly. Still, this has a lot of potential, so I'm sticking around.

Thundercats--Holy crap, has this show been surprisingly good, and I'm not just saying that because they dropped in a reference to Silverhakws and Tigersharks two weeks ago. I'm really digging this show and its willingness to draw together the original's rather disparate ideas and turn it into a somewhat coherent mythology and managed to do all that while still managing to make entertaining done-in-one episodes, which is a model of serialisation so perfect I . . .shit, I'd almost forgotten what it was like seeing it done well.


Doctor Who--We've had two weeks of generally good episodes, and I think that's because we've resisted the theme for this season, which seems to be The Season Where Doctor Who Vanishes Up Its Own Asshole And By The Way You Guys River Song Is Fucken Awesome.

Honestly, the mid-season premiere was one of the most ungodly awful episodes of anything ever. Just really diabolical and an insult to every living creature on earth from protozoa on up.

I've grown to hate River Song, as she has turned into the most dreadful pet character of all times and yet gets applauded for doing the sort of shit that the same people would point and laugh at fanfic writers for doing and this gets a free pass. . .why, exactly?

Anyways, when the show is not the River Song show, it's been tolerable and occasionally even good. When it is the River Song show, it's like having someone pounding red-hot nails through your kneecaps while you get a catheter inserted. A catheter made of barbed wire and hate.

Can we pretty please tie up the whole River Song thing this series? Because this show is seriously on the fucking bubble.


Breaking Bad--Well, we're about wrapping up Season 4 here, and holy shit is this show darker than midnight in a coal mine. Not only has Walter White's ongoing descent into criminality wrought a terrible price on his soul and brought him ever closer to getting killed, but now he's family's deep into it and . . .well, there's not a hope in hell this ends well. It's not an easy series to watch, but it's consistently good, and really doesn't pull any punches.

Plus Mad Men's new season is still a few months away.

That's it for this season. If there is any call for this in the spring (I cannot for the life of me imagine there would be) I'll do it again, especially if I get hard up for content or feel like reminding everyone about my crappy taste in television.


Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

"Thundercats" is indeed leagues beyond its original incarnation, though it's not quite as good as I'd hoped - mostly due to sporadic character development. On the other hand, it's early days yet, and you're right: the mythology's been coherent and surprising at times (ie: the revelation of Mumm-Ra's real connection to the Thundercats' ancestors).

You know, I have vague recollections of checking out "Young Justice" because Greg Weisman's 3 for 3 with me, but it didn't quite seem to click with me - the Martian girl was tremendously irritating, and the plot didn't seem to go anywhere beyond using the last few seconds of each episode to tie seemingly random threats into a Super Secret Organization. I liked the idea that Speedy's not actually part of the group but still part of the story... I don't know, maybe I'll give it another shot when (or if) it comes back...

Looking at my own list for the fall, there's not too much going on with me either: I'll try "Ringer" for a bit, but other than that it's just the usuals coming back for another season - "Castle", "Community", "The Vampire Diaries" and "Fringe"...

By the way, speaking of television, I simply must thank you for introducing me to "Cowboy Bebop". I've managed to squeeze in an episode every few days and I love it. Just as you said, it's the Anime That Walks Like A Western Narrative. So... thanks for that! :)

Kazekage said...

True, it's not quite where it should be to be an enduring classic, but when you look at what it was when we were you and look at an episode of the new one like "Song of the Petlars" (might be the best of them so far) you have to give them credit for ambition if nothing else.

That's the big problem I've had with "Young Justice" so far--we haven't had a real opportunity to have the character grow beyond their stock character traits (well, OK, Aqualad) nor has the over-plot really. I do, however, like that Artemis is the Artemis from Infinity, Inc. kinda tickled my nostalgia button. :)

We get a new episode on Friday. :)

SO glad you like "Bebop." :) It's a perfect anime for people who aren't really into anime, I think because it works in a more universal style, blending dozens of different references, awesome music (I have such love for the music of Bebop. Oh so much), and great characters. Some people have compared it to Firefly, but I don't know--I think "Bebop's" far more universal and not so beholden to its "space western" roots.

Any chance of a write-up at Sententia about "Bebop?" I'd love to hear your thoughts about it!

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Ambition, and just plain common sense. I mean, I never thought I'd utter the phrase "Snarf is so adorable!" but there you go. :)

It might just be a case of false assumptions. I'm only expecting some kind of larger plot because that's a Weisman signature move: both "Gargoyles" and "WITCH" had epic storylines that were seeded very subtly in early episodes, so you didn't necessarily know the pieces were supposed to add up at all (which left you all the more surprised when they did).

You know, I think I'll just let the season play out and maybe go back to it when it's done. It might look better when viewed as a whole...

Having just finished the last episode today, I'd say "like" is a severe understatement. :) What an absolutely magnificent piece of work!

And you're right, to a large extent I think my positive reaction to "Cowboy Bebop" is precisely because I went in expecting the things I usually expect from anime - overwrought pretty boys screaming each other's names for uncomfortable periods of time, tentacles, giant sweat beads and spontaneous "chibi" transformations. And what I got was an incredibly grounded, well-structured story that provides just enough characterization for you to get a feel for the cast, without digging into the cores of their personalities. (I love that we never find out what really happened with Spike, Julia and Vicious in the pre-story narrative: just momentary flashbacks and glimpses, and it's enough, right?) Even the music is such a surprise in that it's categorically not what you'd think to find. And the voice acting, my God! I can't recall a single instance where the English dialogue sounded rushed and unnatural.

Well... the thing about "Firefly" is that for all its interpersonal complexities, the overall conflict was clearly black and white: the Alliance is corrupt, Mal and his crew are the good guys, and even in episodes without direct conflict the binary opposition remains intact. You're absolutely right that part of it derives from Whedon using Old West tropes in a very literal way; making "Firefly" an explicit Space Western reduces any other worldbuilding possibilities. "Bebop" is much more ambivalent: Vicious is really the only recurring villain, and that's Spike's battle - to the point where Jet and Faye ultimately stand aside and let them kill each other. And because they didn't rely solely on the "Cowboy" iconography, they were able to depict a much richer world.

You know... I never made a conscious decision to stop blogging - it's just that time kept getting away from me, and it's even more difficult now. That said, I might have a little reboot of my own when Tom's a bit older... :)

Kazekage said...

It's amazing how tolerable he is when he's not talking or being an ass, innit? Of course, the tradeoff for this was Wilykat and Kit being sociopaths, but I figure they always were anyways. :)

Well, he's also telegraphed it in YJ as well, it's just that we're about 7 (or so) episodes in and we're still kinda spinning our wheels and not really adding in anything else, so something needs to start picking it up.

I must admit, the finale of Bebop is absolutely perfect and very affecting. It is just . . .note perfect.

Nahh, "Bebop" doesn't have any of that, really (for an anime that uses anime tropes to basically destroy them, that would be FLCL, which kinda works in an exactly opposite way to "Bebop") "Bebop" came along when I was first conceiving GMB, so a lot of it (maybe too much) is owed early on. I too was quite taken with the fact that you get some of Spike's life, just like some of Faye's and Jet's and Ed's but just the impression of it--in a world where typically stuff like that falls all over itself telling you exactly how to feel or half-assing it because they don't know either it's great that you have a creator saying "Here. I know you're not stupid. Take what you can of it."

Oh, did you watch the movie as well?

Bebop music has been on every MP3 player I've owned. It works nearly as well independent of the show as in the show itself. :) And the voice acting is so good when I listened to the Japanese track it felt . . .odd, because the English voices fit so well. :)

I think you're right--really the comparison goes no deeper than "Space Western" and the two shows do two very different things with the remit.

I've had the same kinda time pressures lately, so I know the feeling. Nothing to stop you from putting it down now and having stuff to hand when you do the big relaunch. :)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Not so much sociopaths as con artists, IMO - I love the scene where they trick the chef by stuffing him full of spices because they knew exactly what he was planning all along, and they just played him for food. Brilliant. :)

I'd actually extend that perfection to the episode prior to the finale as well: Faye's quest is heartwrenching, but Edward's departure comes out of nowhere, and that moment where Jet and Spike look out the window and see her goodbye message scrawled into the hull hits hard. I wasn't even particularly fond of her character and I still got a bit teary-eyed.

I think that, purely in terms of writing, the two things I appreciated most about "Bebop" was its conscious subversion of expectations, and that willingness to let ambiguities lie and give the viewer enough credit to piece together the puzzles on their own. Spike and Faye never get romantically involved, despite every cliche pointing in that direction; Julia's built up as this huge defining force in Spike's life but she's just an ordinary person, and dies an ordinary death. And as you said, the writers are confident enough in their viewers' intelligence that they don't feel the need to spell out every detail. Even with bit characters like Gren and VT, you're only given enough to understand them on a basic level - the rest is for the audience to decide.

I did indeed see the movie, slotted in between episodes 22 and 23. I liked it, though if I have one criticism of "Cowboy Bebop" as a whole it's that some of the later episodes had a tendency to delve into metaphysical philosophy like invisible butterflies from another dimension and Native American shamans who can predict the future. After BSG, I find I have very low tolerance for that sort of thing, no matter how coherent it may be. :)

So far I've only been able to find "The Real Folk Blues", which I love; if I have the time this weekend I'll try to track down the rest of the soundtrack.

You're right, of course. Or I could do a rewatch when I actually get the time... this is the sort of series that benefits from both a careful eye and multiple viewings. :)

Kazekage said...

Yeah, I'd be worried about any cute moppets that were willing to string along an admitted cannibal like that, but that's just me. Crazy or not they are LEAGUES beyond the originals. :)

That episode is so sad, isn't it? Faye running to her "house" and what she finds there is just crushing, but what really causes me to well up is when Ed tries to get Ein to stay and he insists on coming. That plus the song that's playing ("Call Me Call Me") makes me all misty-eyed.

The thing I love is how much of the story you get via their shorthand . . .without it needing to be made explicit, you get a real feeling for the characters, and even though you have a sense of who and what they are, they never fail to surprise you. :)I was most impressed that the "pregnant" girl in Session 1 feels like a real character and I don't even think she has a name, really, which shows you the care they put into this show.

I kinda hate it when "Bebop" goes metaphysical (well "Mushroom Samba" notwithstanding, because it is so damn funny) too, and I think the episode that really fumbles the most as a result is "Brain Scratch"--they never really click for me. It's much funnier when it's tossed off like Spike asking Native American Guy "This is all mystical and stuff, but do you have anything to eat?" :)

That's a great track, and it was the first one that really grabbed me. But . ..well, I hope you checked your e-mail. ;)

I think it would! I certainly didn't put a lot of my read of Bebop together until my second or third go-round. :) Whenever you get to it, I'd love to read it. :D

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

I suppose if they're recontextualizing the Cats as your archetypal Band of Fantasy Adventurers (Lion-O: Leader, Tygra: Lancer, Panthro: Muscle, Cheetara: Mage), you'd have to have a Thief or two. :)

You know, I went and checked out the lyrics to "Call Me Call Me" afterwards, and it just broke my heart all over again because it's not being sung from Ed's perspective at all - it's Spike and Jet saying "call me, let me know you're all right".

Hell, they even get you to care about the Big Shot hosts after their show gets cancelled, and they're just comic relief getting shooed off before the climax. :)

Pretty much the only pass I'm willing to give them is the shaman's long-winded speech during the finale, and even then that's because it's the only way you can actually figure out what happened to Spike (because literally the last image in the series is a star going out, and that's what the Unfortunate Native American Stereotype was trying to tell Jet: that Spike wouldn't be coming back). But Vincent from the movie was just... well, the man was chasing invisible butterflies made of golden light, and apparently we're supposed to take that at face value. *shrug*

I did, and thanks again. :) Good thing playlists are digital constructs or I would've worn my MP3 player out by now.

It's on the list, then. ;)

Kazekage said...

I recon it's inevitable, though Cheetara as a Mage is a big of a reach--sure she was Cleric, but she hasn't done anything all that magic-Y yet.

It's really amazing how even the music functions as a layer of the story, isn't it? It's even better that it works divorced from its source as just a very good song (I do like it, but listening to it pulls at my melancholy a bit)You're lucky to get that kind of double-duty anywhere, I reckon.

I know! Wasn't that a sweet scene? Here this was, barely a gag, really, and they managed to get some dramatic weight from it.

Yeah, the last scene is a bit . . .undefined,isn't it? The movie even moreso, but then that's always a danger when you're trying to slot in a new chapter in a story that's already written and you want it to have a lot of weight. I need to re-watch it and see if it feels that slight, I think.

I'm glad you found some value in it. :) Always happy to help!

All right! :D

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

In fairness, she hasn't done much of anything yet, but I'm withholding evaluation until the season finale...

Lucky indeed - I can't think of any other instances where that sort of fusion actually works.

The scene with the host meeting his mother really drove home one of the series' greatest strengths: there's a bigger picture out there. Spike and Jet are the protagonists because "Cowboy Bebop" is their story, but it's not the only story in that world. We only get the tiniest slivers of those other tales, but they're there, and we're allowed to know that they're there.

I think it's only undefined if you don't take the shaman's words at face value - if you accept that the Unfortunate Stereotype is a Magical Unfortunate Stereotype, he's informing the viewer in no uncertain terms that when the star goes out in the moment before that last fade to black, Spike has died.

(There must be entire libraries of fan fiction that take off from that point, but this is one of those rare instances where the story I got was so complete I don't feel at all compelled to go out looking for more.)

You know, I ended up sending Ethan out to hunt for Shinichiro Watanabe's next series after "Cowboy Bebop" - it's called "Samurai Champloo" and I'm resolved to dive in as soon as we get it. :)

Kazekage said...

. . .and we should be running over to that here soon, I think. They've started re-running the episodes, so I suspect the intention is to pick up with new episodes when we get back to where we left off.

I'm gonna be interested to see how you react to Samurai Champloo, then, as music is very integral to it as it was in Bebop. The only other thing I can think of that tries is FLCL (although in a much different way, and well . . .)

That was a big influence I took away from Bebop for GMB--never be afraid to go off an examine the borders of the picture somewhere distant from the focus for awhile. In a sense it really makes the story feel more alive because there's a whole world going on and you can't ever really take it all in.

I suppose, yeah. It was weird to watch the movie after that ending, because even though it took place in the story's time-frame, it really felt like a rather jarring coda. And while the movie was pretty good and felt like an old friend stopping by to say hi after not seeing him for years . . .it did feel a little . . .off.

I'm really intrigued to see what you make of it. It didn't work as well for me as Bebop did, but it has it's charms. :)