TV - John C. Kirk
Nov. 29th, 2004
12:23 am - TV
As promised, a more positive entry, based on TV I've been watching recently. Spoilers herein, so apologies to people who've only watched one of the series, since I can't be bothered to split this across multiple entries.
Battlestar Galactica: I was primed not to like this series, out of loyalty to the previous series, and out of sympathy for Richard Hatch (who put a lot of effort into his own proposal). But it's actually very good, so I'd recommend it to anyone who's sceptical. I'd hesitate to describe it as gritty, but it is very much a drama series, whereas the old verson was more action/adventure. And it's more serious, whereas the old version was quite cheerful. The new Cylons are very stylish, and I appreciated the nod to tradition by including the "classic" models as part of history. I was pretty dubious about the human forms (hmm, drop-dead gorgeous blond woman in skimpy clothing, with a number instead of a name - any resemblance to 7 of 9 is strictly coincidental?), but I do like the Quantum Leap effect they've gone for with Baltar.
There are also changes that make a lot of sense, now I come to think about them. For instance, when I saw the unmanned Cylon fighters, I realised that there's no reason for them to be crewed, since the AI could just be built into the craft directly. On the other hand, that did get undercut by showing the weird organic brain inside later. It sort of fits in with the Glen A. Larson novelisations from the original series (with Cylons having 1/2/3 brains), but those books weren't entirely consistent with the TV episodes. I thought that it made an effective episode to have Starbuck digging around inside (equal parts disgusting and daring), but it felt a bit clunky in the wider sense. Similarly, I'm a bit dubious about the idea that the "human Cylons" can transfer their minds in the event of death. That would work if you had unused bots sitting around in storage, but we've seen that there are multiple versions of the same model active simultaneously, so it seems like a waste of resources to do it the other way. I'd suggest that it's more like Madrox absobing his duplicates (comics reference - read the current series!), where an active model would suddenly acquire extra memories, rather than a direct transfer. Mind you, even that's a bit iffy, since it implies that the Cylon infiltrators can communicate with the main Cylon fleet at any time, so that should shorten the search. Minor things, but it shows a slight lack of foreplanning.
Anyway, overall, I can watch this and think "that's Starbuck" rather than "pfah, pretenders to the throne..." which shows how effective it is.
Stargate SG-1: I think the latest series is pretty good. I particularly liked the episode that focussed on what it's like to be in charge of the SGC, since it showed a wider perspective than we normally see. I think that the so called "innocence of youth" is really more like ignorance, or at least obliviousness - a young child only has a limited awareness of the world around them, and they get an increased level of understanding with age. It's a similar issue here, and I'd actually like to see an episode/arc set at the next level up, with a strategic overview of SGC/Atlantis/Prometheus. I also thought that the Teal'c spotlight episode (in his new flat) was great; I have a soft spot for someone who will actually get involved in injustice, rather than turning a blind eye. I'd say that the only real clunker episode so far has been the virtual reality one, since I could see the flaw in their plan rightaway, and I'm sure that the characters shouldn't be as stupid as that. Admittedly, my main concern wasn't actually a problem (I thought that it was a bad idea to put the "exit" button where it might be inaccessible, if Teal'c was cut off from the main lift shaft by enemy forces), but still. My solution would have been to sedate him in between "rounds" - since he was temporarily unconscious anyway, and the game wouldn't be able to re-start until he woke up, by keeping him under they could give his body a chance to recover, which would at least buy them some time. Anyway, I'm happy to keep watching it each week.
Stargate Atlantis: I was very impressed by the first (double-length) episode of this series, to the extent that I'd say it's "Voyager done right". In this case, you have people stuck a long way from home, and they'd like to come back, but they went in with their eyes open, and are taking the opportunity to explore. The first episode kept me guessing as the status quo kept shifting, so I'm definitely glad that I hadn't read any spoilers so that I could be surprised. As for Atlantis itself, I thought that it looked truly beautiful, so full marks to the designers there. I liked the subtly different look of the gates/DHDs, and the fact that the ancients had improved the design to avoid the "door that kills anyone standing in front of it when it's opened" problem, although I was disappointed when that seemed to be ignored in later episodes.
After the strong start, I think it went downhill a bit. Frankly, the woman in charge (whose name I've already forgotten) keeps saying things that are so stupid as to be extremely annoying (Janeway would be proud). The attempt at sexual tension between her and the lead soldier guy felt welded on (an attempt to mirror Carter/O'Neill?), but maybe they need some explanation for him not to stage a military coup... Key examples:
- "If you don't have time to try every combination, then pick random numbers rather than working systematically." No - there was no reason to believe that the correct combination occurred later in the sequence, so if every number is equally likely then it makes sense to try as many distinct combinations as possible, rather than repeating yourself, in order to maximise the probability of success.
- (In response to someone saying that there was a risk of an incoming shuttle exploding.) "I don't want to hear you covering your arse, I want solutions." Firstly, she shouldn't be criticising him like that in public. Secondly, it's a fundamentally illogical criticism. The only reason to cover himself would be so that he could turn around later and say "Hah, not my fault, I warned you." If he was right, and they all died in the blast, he wouldn't be able to gloat. If he was wrong, and they were safe, he'd look stupid, so he'd have nothing to gloat about. So, I'd say that he had a valid concern, and it would then be the leader's job to say "It is/isn't worth the risk" rather than saying "Risk, what risk? La-la-la, I can't hear you..." Frankly, if I was him then I'd resign and be off through the Stargate solo next chance I got...
- "We can't experiment on this prisoner, because it's against the Geneva convention." Uh-huh. And I suppose that starving prisoners to death is perfectly OK?
Just to clarify, I have no objection to the idea of a woman being in charge (I think that Captain Shelby is doing a great job in the "New Frontier" Trek novels), it's just her in particular.
Still, SG-1 had some pretty ropey episodes early on, and it got better, so I'll cut them some slack for now.
The 4400: I think there are two good ideas in here, although I'm not sure that they work very well together. I definitely like the idea of people coming back and having to re-adjust to life; I was initially thinking "it's easier for this group", but I now think it's equally difficult for all of them, however long they've been away, it's just difficult in different ways. The superpowers idea is also interesting (reminding me a lot of the Specials from "Rising Stars"), but I'd rather have seen that left out of this series. There are a couple of other bits that have annoyed me, but I'm now coming round to the idea that it's a deliberate decision to portray flawed characters rather than bad writing. I'm specifically thinking of the guy who decided not to tell his wife that he'd remarried until she turned up on his doorstep - he'd had 6 weeks notice to either write to her or meet her elsewhere to break the news in person, but I guess he was favouring the ostrich approach ("bury my head in the sand and hope she goes away").
Dungeons & Dragons: I got the box-set of DVDs recently, and I've enjoyed watching them. I've got a bit wary of nostalgia purchases, e.g. I loved "Jamie and the Magic Torch" when I was 6 years old, but I only made it through one of the episodes on the DVD (still liked the theme tune though). But the D&D episodes have actually held up very well. I have to say, Eric (the Cavalier) is so much the man... Sample dialogue:
Dungeon Master: Good news, my pupils, I have found a way for you to get home.
Everyone else: Gosh, wow, really? That's great - you're the best!
Eric: Ok, what's the catch this time?
Dungeon Master: Well, you do have to climb the mountain of doom, and defeat the monster that's enslaved the entire valley...
Trivia - by my count, they got home twice during the course of the series, had seven portals that they didn't go through, and two other missed opportunities.
The only negative point here concerns Amazon. After I bought this, their recommendations page said "We suggest D&D v1, D&D v2, etc.", i.e. the individual DVDs. This isn't like the Buffy boxsets, where you have a specially designed case; the box literally holds the exact same DVDs that you would buy individually. I tried explaining this to Amazon, as a suggestion for future development - if they stored extra metadata, they could avoid things like this. After two rounds of emails, they basically said "You can adjust your ratings on things you've bought to improve your recommendations". I can understand why they might make a business decision that the extra cost wouldn't be justified in terms of increased sales, which is fair enough, but they seemed to be incapable of understanding what I was saying. Ah well, no matter.
On a side-note, I've been pretty impressed by Sky+ since I got it. Basically, it works extremely well, except for when it doesn't. Key points: it acts as a VCR, but records onto a hard drive, with many hours (70? 80?), so no need to worry about changing tapes. I can tell it "tape SG-1 every week" then not have to worry about programming it again. And in the event of a power cut, it picks up the time from the signal when it's turned back on, so as long as power is restored before the program starts then I won't miss it. Also, the main problem that I had in the past (using a VCR) was that some programs (e.g. Buffy/Angel) had very low volume during the episode. (It was fine in the adverts, and when watching it live, so I assume this was deliberate, or at least not coincidental.) That hasn't happened at all with Sky+, which is nifty. The only snag is that sometimes the picture freezes on playback, and I can't fast-forward through it; I suspect that there's a disk error, but I haven't got round to taking the thing apart or arranging a time for the Sky guys to come and fix it. All in all, very nifty.