Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ramblings About British Television, Blu-Ray, And Stuff

Look at me, all high-tech and whatnot with Smurf-colored DVDs.First of all, I haven't seen what the big deal is about Blu-Ray. My picture looks plenty fine and I didn't see the need to pay extra money to get Blu-Ray discs, as well as needing to buy a Blu-Ray player to play the expensive discs.  That being said, Laura's mother was kind enough to buy me a new DVD/Blu-Ray player for Christmas (I had been hooking my laptop up to the TV with an S-TV cord of dubious quality and irksome inconvenience).  When looking on Amazon today, I found that Season 1 of Sherlock (second greatest current show, in my opinion) was available on DVD and Blu-Ray for the same price, which also happened to be fairly cheap.  I figured now that I have a Blu-Ray player, I might as well take advantage of it and see if it's worth it, so I ordered the season.  In a few days, we'll see if Blu-Ray lives up to the hype.

My musings didn't end there, though.  It being a British show I ordered, I got to thinking about my preferences of screen entertainment.  My students are always asking what TV shows I watch and then Plus they have a DRAGON on their flag!good-naturedly tease me about the fact that I'm obsessed with Britain.  Okay, yes I studied in Wales for my study abroad and loved it, although the main reason why I chose to go there wasn't because it was Britain (Wales doesn't exactly represent itself as being overly British anyway), but because they had an AMAZING outdoor adventure program which consisted of the most intense four weeks of my life, and they spoke English.  My worst subject in school was foreign language.  But when it comes to TV, there is definitely some sway in my preferences toward the other side of the pond and I began to think about why.

First of all, you may have noticed that I like Doctor Who.  Just maybe.  There's real substance to the show, and a big player in that is its history.  It's hard to keep a show going for 32 seasons plus a movie without some sort of complex story evolving, not to mention the character development (particularly when the title character has essentially been there throughout every season).  He plays the spoons, mixes up his sayings, plays a great game of chess, and will manipulate you into taking your own life, all with a rrrich Northern accent.While it started off as an alien traveling the world with his granddaughter in a time machine stuck in the shape of a police box, it progressed into exploring ethical issues such as that in the Tom Baker era Genesis of the Daleks, massive character depth, development, and mystery present during the Sylvester McCoy era, and the intricate plots common to the David Tennant and especially Matt Smith eras.  This depth of plot is likely what I enjoy most, and it shows in my top three Doctors: McCoy, Smith, and Tennant, all of which had quite convoluted and fantastic story arcs (and McCoy would have had much more had the show not been put on hiatus).  Another reason why I watch more Doctor Who than any other show is simply because there is more!  Like I said, 32 seasons.  I've only watched a little over 10 of them.

The other current show that I watch is the aforementioned Sherlock, again British.  Again, depth and development of characters, which despite only having three 1.5 hour long episodes per season this show does excellently.  And being based off of Sherlock Holmes novels and produced by Steven Moffat, who is also the head producer of the Smith era of Doctor Who, it is needless to say that the plots are intricate.

So yeah, so far a bias towards British shows.  I should point out that as far as I know there isn't a drop of British blood in me.  So why the need to watch British stuff?  First of all, if I'm going to watch something foreign, it had better be in English!  But let's look at American TV.

I've named two of my favorite shows so far, but my top three does include one American show: Firefly.  Looking at what I found value with in Doctor Who and Sherlock, you can see the same here: character depth and development and an intricate plot.  Firefly has, in my opinion, the single strongest cast EVER.  The way such a large number of actors were able to portray their characters so exquisitely and use this to interact with the other characters plays a massive role in why I love the show.  Not to mention they're good at posing dramatically.Not even the combination of David Tennant and Catherine Tate or the oft-overlooked Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill can rival this.  The 'verse that Firefly is set in also contributes to my love of the show: a space western with Eastern touches, wove together in such a way that it actually works.  And the plots...  There's the overarching one of trying to make do after being on the losing side of the war (although only three of the main cast were actually in the war. I'll let you figure out who the third was).  But the fact that there's so many subplots woven into just one season: what the Alliance did to River, the Tams trying to hide, the identity of Shepard Book, how religion and the crew's activities combine (a.k.a. what is right and wrong?), the compression coils, the definition of a hero, relationships among the crew, YoSaffBridge, etc.  It is a pity that Firefly was canceled, but that's a rant for another day (incidentally, that does mean two of my top three shows have bad blood toward Fox.  The Doctor Who movie was their doing, which failed and thus did not result in being a backdoor pilot as hoped).  I should also point out that Joss Whedon studied for two years in England and was heavily influenced by British works such as Monty Python while growing up.

Okay, so the only American show I've really enjoyed has been canceled for a decade.  Incidentally, I should point out that I'm not a big fan of sci-fi, which seems like a silly statement given that two of my top three can be classified as such (Doctor Who holds the record for the longest-running sci-fi show).  This also gets odd looks from several people who assume that because I'm a science geek, I automatically like it.  However, it isn't the gadgetry and futuristic stuff that really get me enthralled, and I haven't really found any other sci-fi that I really like.  The new Star Trek movie was good, but I didn't really care for what little I've seen of the older ones or TV shows, and I was bored by the original Star Wars trilogy (sorry, Ross).  Part of the reason that I don't watch more American TV is that my TV connection consists of an antenna that picks up all of two and a half stations (one cuts in and out, hence the half).  I have tried current American TV, though.  I admit that Big Bang Theory is funny at times, but usually only the first time and I do have a hard time relating to some of the geek culture that the show is known for, so many jokes fall flat for me.  My other issue with it will be discussed later.  The other show I enjoyed was Lie to Me, although it has since fallen out of favor with me.  I enjoyed the cleverness of the main character and the plots were usually in-depth (although not usually extending past one episode).  The problem that it developed is that it went the way of many other TV series, which will also be discussed later.

The problem with many popular American TV shows is they have revolve around immaturity relating to adult issues and/or a giant jerk of a main character.  Take for example South Park, Family Guy, the Simpsons, etc.  I recognize that the writers are actually often quite brilliant and have a knack for satire, but their way of presenting their material irritates me.  I dislike the immature characters and format of the show, and I feel it overshadows the true brilliance behind the writing.  I still don't like the depiction of Moriarty. He's obnoxious.I also dislike characters showing off how dumb/obnoxious/rude they are.  Big Bang Theory also does this, but to a less blatant extent and the subtext is usually more visible.  Part of my irritation with this probably lies with the fact that I'm a teacher, and I know my younger students watch these shows and fail to understand the satire within, only seeing the most rudimentary humor and then going on to imitate it.  I also dislike characters who are complete jerks and cold to the people around them, but because they're brilliant they can get away with it.  House is a prime example, as is whats-his-face from The Office.  This is where Lie to Me failed; Cal originally often had reasons for being a bit of a jerk, as it was usually to keep his daughter and employees safe, but as the seasons wore on he became more and more like House, becoming a jerk for the sake of being a jerk.  I admit that Cumberbatch's Sherlock also has a tendency to be a brilliant jerk, but this is not the focus and as the show has progressed he becomes more and more aware of human feeling.  It also plays off of his character well, as he needs to be cold and distant in his line of work, whereas House and Cal both work with people and should thus have at least a few people skills.  (Interestingly, House is somewhat based off of Sherlock Holmes, with James Wilson being "Watson".)

One British show that I watch does fall under the above classification, I admit, and that is The IT Crowd.  However, my favorite episodes are the ones that aren't as heavy on the jerk and immature factors, and my least favorite character is Douglas Reynholm on account of this.  I think another part of this is that shows like South Park and Family Guy go out of their way to be obnoxious and crude, whereas the way it is played out in The IT Crowd or The Catherine Tate Show is less jarring (although I can only watch The Catherine Tate Show in small amounts before I get annoyed).

Looking at the movies I have in my cabinet, the scales appear more balanced with 14 British movies and 15 American movies (if you count Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog as a movie). The American side also has more variety, as the British side is almost entirely James Bond.  Also, most of the movies I watched while living with my parents (and subsequently not counted in those totals) are American.  I questioned myself as to why this is the case.  Conclusion #1: Availability, as many British movies don't make it here unless they're mainstream, like James Bond or Harry Potter.  Even this guy can see that there isn't much depth here.This would probably be the case with TV shows as well, but many of my close friends watch the same British shows and thus got me hooked on them.  TV shows are also a lot more time-consuming, so I'm not going to watch as many.  This time consumption also plays into the other factor.  A movie is relatively quick (2-3 hours) compared to a TV show (usually around 12 hours).  But with a TV show, there's also the anticipation each week.  As a result, I want my TV shows to be in-depth, with all sorts of twisted plots and character development stretching out over time, making me look forward to next week.  In a movie, it's over in a couple hours so it doesn't need as much depth.  This is definitely reflected in my choice of movies, sich a Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Monty Python, Clue, Blues Brothers, etc.  I also seem to lack many movies from the last five years, with my most recent being the mind-numbingly inane and pointless Creation (which was British, so you can't say I love EVERY British production)...

I will also point out that my top three picks for TV shows and many of my favorite movies all have amazing soundtracks accompanying them, particualrly Doctor Who.  The icing on the cake.

So there you have it.  That's how my brain works in regard to TV and movies, and the cultures that exemplify each.  Now to wait for that Sherlock Blu-Ray to see if coloring a disc blue really makes it better.

P.S. I'm working on writing more (particualrly as Spoofy Randomness is more or less defunct and I'm getting the hang of getting material prepared efficiently for classes).  While this was more of a ramble than a review, I do want to start doing some in-depth reviews, starting with Paul McGann's Doctor and the subtext of the TV movie that surrounds him.
Fear not, McGann. I actually have some positive stuff for you.

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