TV Tropes

“He’s bluffing! No creature would willingly make an idiot out of itself!”
“You’ve obviously never been in love!”
–“Futurama”, “Parasites Lost”

This post is from the “notebook”.

This is one of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite shows. Fry becomes infected with parasites after recklessly eating a truck stop egg sandwich. He discovers they’re there when a pipe goes through his stomach and the worms immediately patch the enormous hole. They then start to work toning his muscles, improving his neurological function (Fry’s a moron), and generally cleaning up the place.

This makes him palatable to the object of his affections, Leela, who attempts to keep him from getting rid of the worms, finally ending with his own efforts to rid himself of the worms and undo what they’ve done, in order to find out whether Leela loves him for himself or for his, um, worms. That leads to the priceless bit of dialog above. (Being a sci-fi show allows Futurama to pose some interesting and unlikely questions.)

End Notebook Section

I can’t remember why I started this post, except that I was probably watching this Futurama episode and it made me think of this great site called “TV Tropes”. That link actually goes to an entry called “Love Makes You Dumb”, and it’s part of a bunch of “Love” entries, like “Love Makes You Crazy” and “Love Makes You Evil”.

TV Tropes is a great site because it lists all these common themes used in television shows–but many can be scene throughout movies and literature as well. Things like “Actually I Am Him” and “Someday This Will Come In Handy” make you realize how often you’ve seen something.

The site’s a little animé heavy with the examples, I guess because those are the people who contribute most. So it’s geekier than geeky. (I mean, it makes me feel like a square sometimes, so you know it’s gotta be extreme.) Still, a whole lot of fun to dig around and go, “Yeah! I know exactly what you’re talking about!” (There’s probably a trope for that, too, but I don’t know what it is.)

Enjoy digging around.

Starbuck’s Revenge

I haven’t watched the new “Battlestar Galactica” series for a number of reasons.

I really liked the old one. Yes, it was cheesy and corny, low-budget and juvenille, and an attempt to cash in on the success of “Star Wars”, but damn! It was a space opera! On TV! The second ever, if I’m not mistaken, following the first: “Star Trek”. (No, I don’t count “Lost in Space” or various cartoons and serials.)

The design was quite good: The Battlestar looked cool. The Empire’s ships looked cool. The Cylons looked cool, at least at the design level. (I mean, yeah, they looked like guys in cheesy costumes, but the floating red eye was great, and the different robots for different tasks was evocative of an interesting hierarchy.

It broke from the sterile “Star Trek” mold, and referred to hookers as “solicitors”. Come on! How can you not like that?

They may have been the ancestors of the Egyptians or the Toltecs or the Mayans! They were looking for Earth! OK, the screwed that up with Galactica 80, but at least it got one of my school pals a couple of weeks of work.

Right, we were talking about the new series which I’ve avoided even with Kelly bugging me about it. This article by Dirk Benedict, the original Starbuck (and star of the weresnake movie Sssssss), reminded me both that I’m not watching it, and some reasons why.

Probably the first reason is because the Cylons don’t look like Cylons anymore. But…but…that was the coolest part of the original series! Not just that, but I find it ultra-super-extra-cheesy when shows do this “they’re alien/robot/monsters that LOOK JUST LIKE US!” It’s just a cheap tactic to reduce the budget. If I want intrigue between humans, I’ll watch a soap opera.

Second, moral ambiguity. You know, I’m as morally ambiguous as the next guy, but one of the other great parts about the series is that you had these completely evil enemies. Long before the SatAM cartoon guys figured it out, BSG realized you could have endless carnage as long as you’re killing robots. The humans were the underdogs but you could root for them without reservation–just ‘cause they were humans fighting machines.

Really, the two big things the new BSG things are two things I don’t really care for in my weekly space opera.

Benedict goes on to talk about the fact that BSG’s strong characters are all female, while the men are wimps. I don’t know if that’s true, and I’m certainly not against strong female characters–the original BSG had Apollo’s sister Athena as a fighter pilot, and even the solicitor was a strong female character, even if in a traditional female role–but isn’t the tiny female superwarrior kind of hack at this point?

I don’t buy Benedict’s premise that this is just some cynical exploitation of a franchise. I’m sure the creators of the new series consider this an improvement, and I don’t think people like it because of PR. Whether because a fundamental shift in viewpoint makes the new show more accessible, or maybe just because the “re-imagining” has the benefit of better production values all around and that compensates for other objectionable parts, people like the new show.

I’m just not among them. At least not yet.

Mr. Monk Gets Cancelled

Well, no, not really. They’re not canceling “Monk”, they’re just ending it next season because it will become more expensive than it’s worth. Which is fine. I like the show but eight seasons is enough. (The damn Brits usually cut their series short.)

Anyway, about ten minutes into “Mr. Monk Gets Shot”, I figured it out.

I’m not really very good at that sort of thing. I try to turn my brain off in the movies–that’s part of the reason I go. But it’s way harder with TV. Particularly with this kind of “can you solve it?” mystery genres.

My mom loved this kind of show, and I was weened on those Sunday Night Mysteries, “Ellery Queen” and the like.

It was “Murder She Wrote” that clued me in, though. In a late season MSW, long after I stopped watching it, I was at mom’s and the opening scene was on. And I knew, from the opening scene, who the killer was.

In this type of mystery show, of course, the oddball item that “doesn’t make sense” is the clue that solves the case. In this one, in the opening scene, Jessica had called across the lobby to an old friend, who didn’t hear her and walked away. Well, duh. He had something in his ears, probably to protect him from loud noises while he committed his crime.

Plus, he was one of Jessica’s old friends, and they were all murderers.

Anyway, these shows all have a limited amount of time and “Monk” especially so because of the comedy bits, so you know there’s not much wasted space. There is no “offhand” remark. I’ve been calling “Monk” for quite a few seasons now.

Another sign that it’s time to go. I hope they resolve Trudy’s murder, tho’. And it wouldn’t kill them to give Monk himself a little personal peace.

Bill Schulz is an Idiot

No, really. He was better before he came out of the closet as a liberal. The fun of “Red Eye” is that you don’t get the usual parroting of The Consensus. The show took a bad turn before the election when virtually everyone except Greg joined on the bash Palin bandwagon.

In fairness, the show takes a bad turn almost whenever someone tries to score a political point, whatever side. Rachel Marsden was sheer agony most of the time when she was on, turning everything into a political point against the left. (Coulter usually does a better job.)

Anyway Schulz was actually talking about the evils of carbon dioxide and when Greg tried to correct him, he allowed that CO2 was fine except when you burn it. This is how shallow and stupid the global warming debate really is. There’s no way to sanely argue against CO2, but I don’t doubt that the AGW crowd conflates carbon monoxide with carbon dioxide.

Jeez. Remi Spencer just said people shouldn’t be allowed to anonymously criticize celebs on the ‘net. She was another doof who parroted the conventional wisdom on Governor Palin.

Great bit on the lobster, though, and “sea kittens”.

Winter Of Our Discontent

Try to convince kids that in your day, cartoons were only on Saturdays and holidays, and they look at you like you’re crazy. The Flower and the Barbarienne were treated to some “Herculoids” today and while the Barbarienne was satisfied with it–as she is with anything animated–The Flower was incredulous that we were subjected to–nay, grateful for–such entertainments.

Even more amazing is that “Herculoids” and most of those holiday entertainments were hand-me-downs from Boomers. And sometimes not even English-speaking hand-me-downs. For example, Morozko (1964), known here as “Jack Frost” or “Father Frost”, was a bizarre Russian fairy-tale/love-story–or even worse, the 1959 Mexican movie Santa Claus.

Both of these would later be mocked on “Mystery Science Theather 3000” along with the perennial 1964 classic Santa Claus Conquers The Martians.

Jack Frost was the subject of one of the lesser–yes, one of the lesser–Rankin-Bass stop-motion animated specials. He’s a sympathetic character in that one, but I’m pretty sure he was villainous in one of the other Rankin-Bass abominations.

As bad as the Russian Jack Frost is, it towers over the Michael Keaton movie of the same name. I saw that in a theater, believe it or not. Keaton is an on-the-road musician dad who ends up dying and being given a chance to fix things–as a snowman. Michael Keaton. Star of Batman. Snowman.

The premiere Jack Frost movie is also about a human being reincarnated as a snowman: This Jack Frost is a serial killer whose DNA merges with snow and gives him all the super-powers of, um, snow.

Better even then this movie is its sequel: Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman. The serial killer villain of the first movie is back, and where the first film has occasional moments of distasteful gore, the sequel is pure camp and a laugh a minute.

Legacy of the Panned

Went to see Moscow, Belgium today with The Boy, who I think can probably claim to be the only 13-year-old male in America to see it. (Not many turning out to see movies about 43-year-old women juggling raising their children with their alienated husband and a truck driver competing for her affections. In Dutch. Or so I’m guessing.)

So I owe you two. Consider the following in the meantime however.

Because showing feature films (since about 1950) on a 4:3 TV would leave bands of the TV black along the top and bottom (and a very small resultant picture in many cases), the whole technology of “pan-and-scan” was developed, where a 16:9 (or other) film was reframed as 4:3, roughly along the center but panning to the right and left “as needed” to convey certain film elements. (I swear Blake Edwards used to deliberately frame dialogs with the two characters at the extreme ends of the frame deliberately to mess with that.)

So this butchery was allowed to continue, and few even commented on it until the ‘80s. As a result, pan-and-scan is still the dominant way films are shown on TV.

But wait, the widescreen TV is pretty standard these days! Does that mean they’re showing the films as originally shot and framed? In a few cases, yes.

In most cases, however, the pan-and-scan version is being shown and then blown up to fill the edges of the widescreen TV.

So, you’re seeing a butchered version of a film, where everyone looks short ‘n’ fat to boot. And while you can override this in some cases, I’ve seen a few situations where the cable overrides the TV controls, locks in the stretch, and seems to refuse to allow the picture to at least be put in the 4:3 frame for which it was designed.

Reminds me of the fact that lines in text files are still largely delimited by carriage-return followed by a line feed, from the time when they were printed out on teletypes, and the print head was on a carriage that had to be moved all the way to the left, and then the paper scrolled, in order to keep the line of text on the page and not overlapping.

Technology’s funny, isn’t it? Butchered movies with short fatties–not so much.

Dueling Lasses

Troop’s been letting his freak fly now that he can embed pics into his blog and riffed off of something I said at Althouse to post a picture of Dana Delaney as head of the newly minted Department of Discipline.

Now, I like Dana Delaney. I think Dana Delaney is delicious. I watched “China Beach” until I got tired of watching her sulk all the time. It took several seasons. Except for her performance in the otherwise flawless Tombstone, I have nothing bad to say about her.

But if we’re talking Irish lasses, Delaney had a co-star on that show, a young lady who had also appeared on “Hill Street Blues”, and whom I’ve always preferred. So, take this, Trooper York:

Megan Gallagher! She also had a chance to strut her soulful-stuff on the short-lived series Millennium. Someone needs to put these Irish women in things where they’re actually allowed to smile….

Manic Monday Apocalypso: The Monsters Are Due

Can a story be apocalyptic when it’s not really apocalyptic?

OK, that’s a stupid question. Can a story be apocalyptic when the objective reality is actually not?

Submitted for your approval: “The Twilight Zone”. TZ did apocalypse and post-apocalypse better than any one, because whatever they did only had to last 22 minutes. (Let’s just forget those over-extended hour shows.) So, they could look at any aspect of a potential apocalypse intensely, and leave the rest of the details to our imaginations.

The particular episode for today is “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street”. It’s a fiendishly simple premise that given a few banal, but rattling and inexplicable circumstances, people will turn on each other. Presented with a potential apocalypse, in other words, people will act to destroy the world.

This is particularly a propos of last week’s election. In any given US election, a substantial portion of the population is convinced the world will end if their guy doesn’t get in. In the past eight years, we’ve heard a lot of screaming that it actually has or did come to an end, if only we’d been paying attention. (Fortunately, whatever damage has been done is instantly reparable by The Other Guy. But now that guy’s gonna bring on the apocalypse.)

I don’t think that the phenomena in “Monsters Are Due On Maple Street” would bother anyone much today. We’re already used to rolling black outs. But our elections herald the new monsters.

The South Park episode airing the day after the election played on this a bit, with the winners celebrating and the losers fearing the post-election world. But in that episode, it only took the night for people to begin to realize that not much is different. And I think in real life, it’ll take a minimum of two years for people to get over this one.

Spaced

We’ve been watching the millenial Channel 4 show, Spaced this week, which seems to be the series that really established the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg team that would go on to make Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. (I’ve written about Hot Fuzz before here, regarding its take on male friendship.)

In a lot of ways, “Spaced” is a very traditional comedy with a very traditional situation. Tim Bisley (Pegg) and Daisy Steiner (Jessica Hynes nee Stevenson) play two 20-somethings in need of a place to stay. They find the perfect place, with one catch: They have to pretend to be a “professional couple”.

This setup is actually used for almost none of the stories that follow, but unlike most sitcoms, Tim and Daisy are constantly forgetting that they’re supposed to be a couple, and once they’ve warmed up to the creepy landlady Marsha (Julia Deakin), they find themselves mid-sentence saying something that makes no sense.

“Spaced” features a lot of the cuts, setups and rhythms found in the two movies, and is rife with references to cinema, television, video games and comics. It’s a credit to the show that I probably got about half the references and still found it hilarious. (The references to television are particularly British, and I only know a handful.)

A lot of what makes it work, of course, is the melodramatic camera work and use of movie tropes (camera angles, zooms, flashbacks) in situations that are either inappropriate or that don’t pay off as expected.

For example, Nick Frost plays Pegg’s best moustachioed friend Mike, whose great desire for life is to be in the military, but who can’t get in because of…the incident…that happened long ago when Mike and Tim were kids. Several times, they mention this, and look skyward, as the camera drifts up to a flashback of the two of them as children, sitting in a tree, Mike still with his moustache.

And then they’re interrupted, and the flashback ends. We do sort of find out later on what happened, but it doesn’t really make sense. We just know it was Tim’s fault.

The show’s American parallel is probably “Arrested Development”, though it’s far less sleazy (from what I recall of AD), and far geekier. There’s some of the whimsy of “Northern Exposure”, and you could even compare it to “Friends”, except that it feels a lot less plastic, for all the contrived-ness in its setup and style.

Rounding out the cast is Mark Heap as Brian, the tortured artist who lives downstairs and Katy Carmichael as Twist, Daisy’s bubbleheaded friend “in the fashion business” (she works at a dry cleaners).

These six characters pretty much carry the show, though there are no throwaways: The guy who stole Tim’s girl, the bike messenger “Wheels”, Brian’s mum, and Marsha’s tempestuous never-actually-seen-but-always-heard teenage daughter–they’re all vividly drawn.

Despite the wildness–which actually doesn’t seem all that wild ten years later–the show hangs together by its character development. So much so that, toward the end of the second series, the penultimate show is actually pretty serious. We were worried that the show was going to end on a downbeat.

Having come to the show backwards, as it were, through the two movies, Jessica Hynes was the unknown element. She co-wrote the shows along with Pegg, and moved on to–well, to have a mess of kids, and to do movies. (She plays Simon’s ex-girlfriend in Shaun of the Dead, the one who is also leading a crew of characters to safety, though in the completely opposite direction.) Turns out she’s quite a force.

To reference “Friends” again, I remember in the first season of that show, when it took off all crazy-like, the actors talking about the length of the series, and how sad it would be for them to be in their 40s, still doing the same setup of having roommates and no steady job and no family. Ultimatey, they did go for 10 years, and it was sort of sad. (Or so it seemed to me, I only watched the first season.)

“Spaced” ran for fourteen episodes, encompassing a year or two of the characters’ lives, and by the end, there’s some concern that they all need to move on. (This is the sort of serious moment.) There’s even a speech where Tim talks to Daisy about how lucky they are to have been able to prolong their childhoods–though it was wisely cut out of the actual show.

But basically, here’s a show about 20-something geeks, written, directed and performed by 20-something geeks. And you might have to be, or have been, a 20-something geek in the ‘90s to appreciate it. And there’s almost no way they could have gone on too long with it, or get it back together now for a third season, as they all approach 40.

In fact, in both Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, the characters are in my opinion a little old for the roles. But we’re lucky to have this moment in time crystallized in DVD form, and for the creators to have gone on to do even more cool stuff.