Take a chance

11 01 2015

Have I mentioned I’m lazy? I think I’ve mentioned I’m lazy.

Not in every aspect of my life, but certainly in too many. One of the more benign, yet highly irritating, forms is my middle-aged-onset laziness with regard to t.v. and movies: I don’t want to watch something in which I don’t know what happens.

This goes beyond not minding spoiler alerts into not wanting to endure uncertainty. I know something’s going to happen, and it about kills me not knowing the what and the when and the how.

I think that’s why I like procedurals: there’s such an established pattern with the plot that any anxiety over what-next is smoothed into mere waiting by the predictability of the genre: in Criminal Minds, for example, there’s the initial crime, then a second crime, then either the nabbing of a third victim (during which clock-ticking the team discovers something from the past) or a failed attempt that gives the team crucial information to identify the guy. Then they find the victim.

Bones had (has) its own pattern, as did Numbers, but they all had/have a pattern. I might roll my eyes at the predictability, but you betcha I rely on it.

That bothers me. Not that I like procedurals—who am I hurting?—but that I’m unwilling to try something else that I might like, might miss a movie which could move me, all because I get so wrapped up in not knowing the what-next that I can’t sit still for the what-is. And even when I am willing to try a new show—Flashpoint, Bletchley Circle, Lie to Me—what are they?

Prcedurals.

Pitiful. I used to watch so many different types of movies, read so many different types of novels, and while I might still read fiction, it’s not as much as I’d like. I used to enjoy, if not not-knowing, then at least, the getting-to-know or the finding-out. Not knowing was a chance, not a threat.

A little predictability isn’t the worst thing, but so much, too much, makes me feel small. I don’t always need to be big, but I miss the chance.





Oh write me a beacon so I know the way

24 02 2013

dmf is an enabler.

He turned me on to Wallander, which third series I just finished watching.

Okay, note: here be spoilers.

Yes, my weakness for police procedurals was fed by the mischievous dmf, who dangled Kenneth Branagh-as-a-Swedish-cop in front of me, knowing I would bite. It was dark and gloomy and  Wallander was dark and gloomy and the long shots of the prairie and the sea somehow managed to be both peaceful and menacing.

I generally only watched one episode a night. Unlike, say, Waking the Dead, there was little light relief in each episode, nor was it like Numb3rs, where things often turned out okay; no, Wallander was an hour-and-a-half of anxiety, waiting for something to go wrong.

To its credit, things didn’t always go wrong, but, honestly, you knew better than to think the right would last for long.

I’ve only watched a couple of episodes of Luther—Idris Elba, duh!—and really, really enjoy Alice Morgan, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Luther and Wallander share the same dim fortune. Luther’s wife came to him in the last episode I watched, but I bet, as with Wallander’s girlfriend, she won’t be long with him.

But maybe not, maybe the producers will allow him Zoe, if only to keep we viewers on edge wondering if she sticks around (or stays alive). I do have to say that, as much as I liked Vanya, I worried that he was messing things up with her; it was easier after she left.

Anyway, one downside to watching all of these procedurals is that certain plot points are repeated across the various series. This past fall CSI featured a 3D-printed gun; a week or two later, the terribler-and-terribler CSI: New York. . . featured a 3D-printed gun. Brennan was shot in that lousy Bones episode with a bullet that couldn’t be found; a frozen meat bullet (which turned out to be a frozen blood bullet), I hissed, thinking of a similar bullet from, I think, an years-ago CSI.

The plot points aren’t necessarily shared across the entire genre: there are things that show up on the forensic shows that wouldn’t, say, matter much on any of the Law & Order series. The too-creepy-even-for-me Wire in the Blood shares more with the tamer-but-still-creepy Criminal Minds than with, say, the Inspector Lynley series (which I stopped watching because he was so insufferable), or NCIS. And Cold Case was a rather direct theft of Cold Squad.

And, of course, you learn to be far more skeptical than the cops, and to keep an eye out for any halfway-well-known actor: that person almost certainly will figure prominently in the the plot. Both of these can detract somewhat from one’s enjoyment: you the viewer figure things out more quickly not because you’d be a better detective than these folks, but because you can see signals to which the t.v. cops are blind.

Would I have been any kind of detective? I doubt it. For one thing, I had zero desire to become a cop, and it was only in my thirties that I realized how much I liked puzzles—and that only emerged when  wondering what I might have specialized in had I gone to (and made it through) med school. I liked diagnostics, so maybe internal medicine, but more likely, pathology.

In any case, with training I might have been a competent enough detective, but I doubt I’d have been anything more than that, and might not have been even that.

Now, now I’m a competent enough adjunct professor, and trying to be something more than that. Perhaps that’s among the reasons I like procedurals: I’m still trying to puzzle my way through, so I appreciate those moments, even if fictional, when the puzzles have been solved.





The thrill is gone

6 01 2013

Bones should have ended awhile ago.

No, this isn’t a complaint about the eighth season—it’s like the seventh season, fine, not like the wretched sixth—but more an observation about exhaustion.

The show is tired, and that tiredness shows. The writers are practically shouting that Angela is going to leave the Jeffersonian, and the whole Cam-Aristoo thing? Hmpf.

The main problem, of course, is that Booth and Brennan have settled into domesticity with one another, and as much work-chemistry as the two had in the first five seasons, they have no home-chemistry. In fact, their lack of a home fire burning is dampening their work-mojo.

(No, I don’t hate that they’re a couple, although I would have preferred that they not be. I also think it would have been better, from a dramatic perspective, if they wanted to go with the whole Brennan-Booth-baby thing, to have had them either tried and failed to make a go as a couple, or have tried simply to figure out how to raise their kid together without the two of them getting together. But, y’know, they didn’t ask me.)

I still like all of the characters, and the plots, hey, the plots are fine, but the frisson has fizzled. There was an unpredictability in the early seasons, an unpredictability predicated in large part of the audience’s ignorance of the characters. As we got to know them, we settled into a kind of comfort with them, which is in and of itself not necessarily a problem.

But it did become one for the writers. Whereas before there was a sense of what if with the characters—a what-ifness heightened by or illuminated by the plots—now there is only a kind of here-we-go-again sensibility, i.e., the comfort with the characters’ quirks has deliquesced into laziness.

It was, I think, in reaction to the comfort that wrecked season 6:  the plots frantically tried to zap some zip back into the characters, so much so that I, as a viewer, thought, Shit, they’d never do that.

Consider the interns on an improvement kick: Clark tried to be more open, and Fischer attempted to find peace and happiness. Now, I’m not against change—trying to do a bit of that, m’self—but these attempts came out of nowhere and, more importantly, went nowhere.

And Brennan, well, Brennan they twisted around most of all, having her go back to patterns she’d dropped in the first or second season, upping her coldness factor and downplaying the curiosity that always took the edge off her clinical approach, and, worst of all, treating her emotions less as a dimension of herself with which she was not wholly comfortable than as something which occurred outside of her, afflicting her.

Example? There was an episode late in season six which involved a runaway deaf girl murder suspect. (Yeah, I know, but that’s part of the territory of police procedurals.) Brennan is just nasty to this girl, nasty in a way that she rarely was with any other suspect, and certainly more than she had ever been to any troubled kid. It took Sweets to remind Brennan of her own fraught childhood—something which never would have been necessary in the preceding (or succeeding) seasons.

Anyway, it seems in the current and last season that the producers figured out how they erred in season six, and returned us to the comfort the show had attained in season five. Clark is back to uptight, Fischer is back to dour, and while I still miss Vincent Nigel-Murray, the crew is complete.

Alas, completeness is the death of drama.

I still watch Bones, and will watch through to the end of the season. I just hope that this is the last.