Posts Tagged ‘television’

Let’s Talk About Star Trek Discovery

Okay, Squiders, fair warning: SPOILERS THROUGH EPISODE 3 (which, for those of you who might read this in the future, is all there is as of today.) Though I am going to complain about CBS for a minute, so you can read that if you want.

First of all–what is CBS thinking with their Access service? Do they really think that the other content they’re offering is going to be enough to hook anyone that comes in just for Trek? Cuz let me tell you how motivated I am to poke around and see what else they have: not at all. I am here for Trek and Trek alone, and if that Trek fails me, then I’m out of here. Likewise, if the Trek does not fail me, then I’m still out of there as soon as the season’s over.

(Actually, we’re thinking after our free trial is over, we’ll bugger off for a few months, then subscribe for a month and binge watch the episodes we missed.)

The Access service is not a good value anyway. Not only is it $7 or $8 or whatever a month, but there are commercials. A lot of them. Probably 4 or 5 breaks an episode, and 3 to 4 commercials per break. If I am paying for my TV, it should at least be commercial-free.

And it feels like they don’t really know their target market. Yes, a lot of people my age and younger don’t watch traditional television and an Internet-based service might be a good fit for us (but still, $7 a month PLUS COMMERCIALS), but what about the older generations? The ones that watched the Original Series, the ones that made Trek popular enough to do the movies and Next Generation? Like my parents. Like my mother. These are not people who are terribly familiar with Internet television. These are not people who are going to watch TV on their computers. These are not people who are going to have streaming devices like Rokus or video game consoles. My mother-in-law has already given up on the series because she can’t figure out how to watch it.

GOOD JOB, CBS, YOU SUCK.

Anyway, let’s talk about the actual series now, shall we?

I will admit to being really wary about the whole thing. First of all, time period–why do we keep sticking things before the Original Series? Is there some reason we feel like we can’t explore what happens post-Voyager? The 25th century is too scary somehow? And then there were the issues with the showrunners and production and so forth, and the general worry from promotional stuff that they were simply trying too hard. (Uniforms whhhhyyyy. No one is going to be able to easily make that from scratch, and I say that having made an Original Series minidress from the pattern in the original technical manual.)

Also, I feel like some of the promotional stuff was misleading. “Look, we have a female first officer AND a female captain and neither is white!” without telling you that said captain dies and said first officer is stripped of rank and court martialed by the time you get to the end of the second episode. And the captain of the Discovery? Your standard white man, so if you signed up for some ladies in power, well.

That being said, the series goes in a completely unexpected direction, and one that I am digging thus far. There are things I have issues with, but I am here for the storytelling. This is not your standard episodic Trek, and I will be very interested to see where we end up at the end of the season. The acting and characters are very good (though Anthony Rapp’s character Lt. Stamets is a no-go for me), and they’re playing around with making the aliens more alien since technology has improved. 

So! If we ignore the CBS Access stupidity, I’d recommend Discovery. It’s early days, but I’m intrigued, and that’s high praise for a show that normally takes at least a season to get their groove (or three, if you’re Next Gen). 

Have you been watching, Squiders? What do you think?

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Fun Scifi Tropes: Alternate Universes

Alas, Squiders, today we come to the end of our scifi trope series, and we end with alternate universes, which are a personal favorite of mine (which seems to be a trend). WordPress handily keeps track of blog posts I’ve started, and there’s one from, oh, six years ago that is entitled “Alternate Universes” and the entirety of the post is “ARE AWESOME WOO.”

Good job, me.

Related to this (and to be included in this discussion) are parallel universes, which are almost exactly the same thing.

An alternate universe is a universe existing alongside our own, usually with slight changes (or sometimes major changes). These can be accessed in some manner that helps the plot along (or, alternately, the alt universe can stick its nose into our universe, usually with disastrous results).

TV Tropes lists ten specific variations of alternate universes:

  • Alternate History (This is, as it sounds, where some major event in the past never happened, or happened differently. Germany winning WWII is a common example of this.)
  • Another Dimension (TV Tropes says this is actually the parent trope for Alternate Universes. In this case, this is any world next to our own, whether it’s the Otherworld of the Fey or some of the weirder planes in Dungeons and Dragons. There does not need to be a relationship between our universe/dimension and the other one.)
  • Bizarro Universe (Usually everything is opposite, though the name of trope makes me think of the bizarro episode of SeaLab 2021 where all the bizarro versions said “Bizarro” all the time.)
  • Dark World (Essentially our world, but everything is terrible. To link in with last week’s time travel, you can get one of these by accidentally messing up something in the past.)
  • For Want of a Nail (One small change creates a MAJOR change between universes. Also In Spite of a Nail where the differences are critical but the characters tend to be the same.)
  • Mirror Universe (a subset of the Bizarro Universe, but basically where everything is the same except good people are evil and vice versa.)
  • The Multiverse (There’s multiple universes to be bounced around across.)
  • Elseworld (This is essentially what fanfiction alt universes–AUs–are. Basically you take a familiar character and put them in a wildly different situation.)
  • Wonderful Life (How the world would be if you were never born/existed.)
  • Alternate Tooniverse (An alternative universe that’s animated.)

(As a side note, TV Tropes is a bit like Wikipedia and you can lose hours in there, so be careful.)

Like most of the scifi tropes we’ve looked at, alternate universes can be used pretty much any way you want. They can be used to explore aspects of humanity, causality, or history. They can be used as backdrops for adventure, romance, and exploration. You can have a new universe every week, or have a number of universes intricately connected.

What are your favorite uses of alternate universes, Squiders? I recently started V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series, which deals with alternate universes in a fantasy setting. And, of course, Star Trek makes excellent use of this trope through episodes like Mirror, Mirror and even my very favorite Next Gen episode, Inner Light.

Fun Scifi Tropes: Robots

Hey, guys! We’re doing this today rather than Thursday because we’ve got our Winterking discussion then. (Are you guys reading that with me? At first I thought it was better but we seem to be delving back into familiar confusion as we near the end.)

So today we’ll talk about robots. Who doesn’t love robots? Well, technophobes or people waiting for the Singularity, I suppose.

According to NPR, the word robot was created in 1920 for Karel Capek’s play, Rossum’s Universal Robots (RUR). In the play, robots are biological, but have no feelings, and are used to do all the jobs that humans don’t want to do. “Robot” comes from the Old Church Slavonic word “rabota,” which means servitude of forced labor.

That being said, despite the image that is generally rendered by the world–a futuristic machine that does various tasks–robots have actually been around for quite some time, mostly in the forms of automatons, which are machines created to do a specific purpose and are usually self-contained (i.e., they don’t need external control). Stories from ancient times often include automatons, and several from the 1700s-1900s still exist.

(Automatons gained some public interest from the success of the book/movie The Invention of Hugo Cabret.)

Automatons often feature fairly strongly in steampunk media (such as the webcomic Girl Genius) though the capabilities of various automatons are somewhat exaggerated past what is historically accurate (which is a feature in steampunk anyway).

Despite living in an age of robotics now, most people still get that 1950s-era Lost in Space Robot sort of image. Or the Cybermen from Doctor Who. Or Rosie from the Jetsons. It’s hard to look at a Roomba and see the connection.

(Speaking of Roombas, my partner and I recently kickstarted a robot by the same company called Tertill, who is designed to weed your garden for you. I am SO excited. I hate weeding. Anyway.)

And, of course, scifi has branched out from your classic mid-century robots. Androids are an especially large area of interest, because it allows us to explore questions such as what it means to be human, what constitutes as life, etc. If a robot looks human, acts human, are they human? Where is the delineation between man and machine?

(Actually, for a look at a world where AI are accepted as a lifeform, you might look at the webcomic Questionable Content. It starts off as a slice-of-life comic, but has added more and more AI characters and focused more on them and how they fit into the world as the comic has gone on.)

You really can–and scifi does–go over with this trope. I read a very interesting short story in one of those Best Of collections not too long ago, about a robot whose job is to keep the outside of a spaceship repaired. You can do more humanoid, or stick with more modern-day robots, where they have a single function, often something that humans won’t or can’t do. You can look at humanity through machines or just have them as background flavor in your space adventure. They can develop sentience or not.

You can have them overthrow their creators or be locked down by the laws of robotics.

(TVTropes has 47 subtropes under “Robot.”)

Who are your favorite robots? I’m partial to Data, Bender, R2D2 and K-2SO (I really like snarky robots it turns out), and Johnny 5 (…is alive!). Favorite book/show/movie that includes robots?

Bad Characterization at Work: Scooby Doo

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about Avatar: the Last Airbender and its excellent treatment of its characters. The larger, mobile one is now back on Scooby Doo, which was a favorite of his about two years ago, so much so that he dressed up as Scooby for Halloween.

Steal this image and I will hunt you down.

(Cherish that picture. You will probably never get another.)

(Also, this was actually the third Halloween my husband and I spent as Shaggy and Daphne. Before we had offspring he had a stuffed Scooby that he used to wear on his shoulder like a pirate’s parrot.)

(Crazy things happen when dressed up as Shaggy and Daphne. The stories I could tell.)

(Also, my husband kind of looks like Shaggy in general, so much so that when we went to Universal Studios Hollywood for our first anniversary, the Shaggy and Scooby went right for him when they came out.)

(Anyway.)

Now, there are a million versions of Scooby Doo, and I realize that some versions treat character better than others, but in general, Scooby Doo is an exercise in stereotypes. And, funnily, the stereotypes vary from version to version, but pretty much all of them are unflattering to all involved.

Let’s go over them all in general terms shall we:

Fred: Fred is often portrayed as a dumb jock or as an airhead.
Daphne: Daphne is a pretty girl concerned mostly with shoes and clothes (and boys, in some versions).
Velma: Often the only one of the group with any brains, but also often portrayed as not attractive. Apparently completely blind without her glasses.
Shaggy: Dumb stoner obsessed with food.
Scooby: Scooby actually suffers from stereotypes less than the others. Is it because he’s the “lead” character? Because he’s a dog? A lot of times he gets stuffed into the same categories as Shaggy, but even then he tends to be more observant and occasionally find clues.

We’re not touching anyone else, because that’s madness.

And yet, the show has hung on for almost fifty years.

Now, of course, some of this is format. Scooby Doo, in most of its iterations, is episodic, and there’s only so much characterization you can stuff into a 20-minute episode. And, with such a large cast for such a short time slot, it makes sense to use stereotypes as people can readily identify them in the cultural norm.

Part of it may be the longevity of the characters at this point. If you did a new series and tried to give the characters arcs, would people accept that? The series that our library has, Mystery Incorporated, which ran from 2010 to 2013, tries to some extent, and, really, it’s all bad. That’s the choices they made, not necessarily an argument against giving the gang some characterization in general. (Like, do we really need to pair Velma and Shaggy up? And also we switch Velma’s normal stereotype for naggy girlfriend which is the worst.)

Would you agree with me that the characterization in the Scooby Doo shows is bad? Any thoughts on why or why not? Who’s your favorite member of the gang? (Mine’s Velma in most cases but Shaggy in some versions.)

Good Characterization at Work: Avatar The Last Airbender

The larger, mobile one and I watched Avatar: The Last Airbender (referred to as A:TLA from here on out) a few years back, which I had heard of and had recommended many times before, and had just never gotten around to. We watched the whole thing, as well as the first season of the sequel, The Legend of Korra, which we then stopped because Korra is quite a bit more mature and there were elements that I found terrifying so I wasn’t going to show it to my small child.

I mentioned something about A:TLA to him last week or so, and he didn’t remember the series at all, despite being his favorite and us reading the comments and the works. So we’re watching it again. Well, he’s watching it, and I’m watching my favorite bits, which has unfortunately included most of the third season so this week’s been a bit low on the productivity.

But I noticed again how interesting Zuko’s character arc is–oh, I should warn you that there are spoilers ahead, though to be honest, it’s been eight years since the series ended and I think that ship has sailed, and also I knew a bit about people’s arcs going into the show and it did not ruin my enjoyment of it at all.

For those that are unfamiliar with A:TLA, it’s a Nickelodeon show that ran in the mid-2000s about a world where the people are divided up into four people based on their element affiliation. Most people are normal people, but there are some who are “benders,” people who can manipulate their element in various ways. There’s one person at any time, the Avatar, who can manipulate all four elements: Earth, Fire, Air, and Water. When the Avatar dies, he or she is reincarnated into the next element in the cycle.

In the time period that A:TLA takes place in, the Fire Nation attacked the others about a century ago, plunging the world into war. The Avatar, a 12-year-old airbender named Aang, accidentally got trapped in an iceberg, and avoided being wiped out by with the rest of the airbenders, who the Fire Nation destroyed, knowing that the Avatar would be an airbender since the previous one had been a firebender. So the series focuses on Aang and his need to master all four elements so he can face the Fire Lord and hopefully put the world back into balance.

The bending worldbuilding is very good–they based each on a different martial art, and within each type of bending the movements are very consistent and logical. Earthbending, for example, features a lot of wide stances and grounding yourself; waterbending is fluid and moves quickly from form to form, etc.

Perhaps the strongest thing about the show, though, is the characters. There are several main characters, and each are given a complex and reasonable backstory. None are treated are caricatures or stereotypes, and each have flaws and strengths like real people. Not only that, but major secondary and side characters are given the same treatment. Even Aang has understandable and relatable flaws despite his being the all-powerful Avatar.

There’s five “main” characters: Aang; Katara, the last waterbender from the Southern Water Tribe; her brother, Sokka, who is the sole nonbender and functions as the tactical mastermind; Toph, a blind earthbender; and Zuko, crown prince of the Fire Nation. Sokka is probably my favorite, because he’s sarcastic and fun most of the time, but as I said above, I’ve always been fond of Zuko’s arc.

Zuko starts off as the primary antagonist, hunting down Aang and leaving a swath of destruction to get to him. But the show makes it clear that he feels he has to–he was banished three years previously, at age 13, for talking back to a general during a war meeting, and his father told him that finding the Avatar was the only way he’d ever be allowed back home. Zuko’s stuck between his cruel father who’s determined to make the Fire Nation dominate the world, and his uncle, who preaches balance and kindness. Throughout the series, he’s forced to confront his beliefs and his past constantly, which is handled well and believably. In the end, he joins up with Aang and the others to help Aang master firebending and fights directly against his family to help put the world back into balance. I know from experience how hard it is to successfully take someone from a villain to a hero, so it’s interesting to see it done well. At no point does Zuko change his core personality, which is a nice touch.

Anyway, if you haven’t seen A:TLA, you should watch it as an example of characterization done right. Yes, it’s meant for children, but they made the world and characters feel real, and put in plenty of complexity for adult viewers. It’s an easy watch too–the episodes run about 25 minutes, and there’s 20 to a season. All seasons are free to stream on Amazon, and I imagine it’s also available on other streaming services. Korra is also an excellent show, at least the parts I’ve seen, though much darker in tone. It’s obviously meant for a much older audience.

Do you have other examples of TV shows or books that do a really excellent job with their characters? Thoughts on A:TLA if you’ve seen it?

The Cycle of Serial Formatting

So, having run out of new Doctor Who episodes (until the last season arrives from the library), the not-so-small, mobile one and I decided we’d watch a few episodes of the original series, starting with the first doctor.

What I did not know is that each “episode” of classic Who is actually a series of episodes, usually somewhere between 4 and 6. While each episode within an “episode” contributes directly to the same story, the “episodes” themselves seem to be more or less episodic, without a specific order that they need to be watched in.

It’s a weird television format, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it elsewhere. Other same-era scifi shows don’t follow it (such as the original series of Star Trek or Lost in Space) and I can’t say that I’ve seen it in anything since then either. Shows tend to either be mostly or fully episodic, or all episodes in a season/series contribute to the same ongoing plot.

Now, books on the other hand…

Books used to be written in serial form all the time. Dickens did it. Dumas did it. It was cheaper and easier to distribute. But eventually we moved on to “books,” as it were, where a single story comes in a single, large chunk (or, in the case of series, a couple large chunks).

But it seems like now, books are moving back into a serial form. E-publishing makes it easy to put up and change your work whenever you like. I’ve seen people serialize a story, putting up each section individually, and then combine the work into a single novel when done. Some people do this for each book in the series, which kind of brings us back to the classic Who format: a series of serials.

How do you feel about reading/writing serials, Squiders? Have you done any yourself? Read any excellent ones?

Any thoughts on the first doctor?

Have a happy weekend, Squiders.

Why We Love Reoccurring Characters

Amazon’s put Doctor Who (except for Season 9) back onto Prime, so I’ve been catching up. (I continue to have a “this show makes no sense and I’m not sure why I continue to watch it, yet there must be something because I keep watching” relationship with DW.) One of the recent episodes I watched had an occasional reoccurring character that happens to be a favorite of mine, and I may have gotten unnecessarily excited when she showed up.

That got me to thinking about reoccuring characters in general. It seems–and this may be generalizing–that people feel more strongly about their affection for reoccurring characters than main characters, in many cases. Everyone has that character that, when they happen to grace a show, book, movie, etc. with their presence, makes their day.

(Or, alternately, it could be a character that they love to hate. Or just really hate. I’m looking at you, Kai Winn.)

Why do we react stronger to characters we don’t see that often?

Well, my going theory is that we get used to characters we see all the time, so while we relate to them and may feel closer to them (or, for characters we don’t particularly like, just kind of accept that they’re there and deal with it). They lose their impact, to some degree. It’s like the friend you see every day. You’re comfortable with them, you love them, but they’re not necessarily exciting.

Reoccurring characters are like the friend you haven’t seen in a year. It’s an event when they come and visit! It’s something you look forward to. And even better if it’s a surprise, and you open the door one day to find them sitting on their porch (assuming they don’t think they’re staying with you unannounced).

It’s not that they’re better, per se. It’s just the absence makes the heart grow fonder.

I do find it interesting that when a reoccurring character becomes a main or side character for a period of time, it can go really well or really poorly. It really shows how complete of a character that character is when some of that shiny-ness wears off.

Who are your favorite reoccurring characters, Squiders? Any examples of a reoccurring character turned regular that went spectacularly well (or not)? Any experience with your own reoccurring characters?