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Stuff [Jul. 11th, 2010|10:21 pm]
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As I mentioned in my last entry, I've been watching Babylon 5 lately. It's not a perfect show, but it has one big advantage: it's consistent and believable.

Contrast this with Doctor Who. Doctor Who is fun to watch, but if you think about it for more than two seconds you notice it's full of plot holes and contradictions. Things that cause time travel paradoxes that threaten to destroy the universe one episode go without a hitch the next. And the TARDIS, the sonic screwdriver, and the Doctor's biology gain completely different powers no one's ever alluded to depending on the situation. The aliens are hysterically unlikely, often without motives or believable science, the characters will do any old insane thing when it makes the plot slightly more interesting, and everything has either a self-destruct button or an easily findable secret weakness that it takes no efforts to defend against.

But I guess I'm not complaining. If the show was believable, the Doctor would have gotten killed the first time he decided to take on a massive superadvanced alien invasion force by walking right up to them openly with no weapons and no plan. And then they would have had to cancel the show, and then I would lose my chance to look at the pretty actress who plays Amy Pond.

So Doctor Who is not a complete loss. But then there are some shows that go completely beyond the pale of enjoyability, until they become nothing more than overwritten collections of tropes impossible to watch without groaning.

I think the worst offender here is the History Channel and all their programs on the so-called "World War II".

Let's start with the bad guys. Battalions of stormtroopers dressed in all black, check. Secret police, check. Determination to brutally kill everyone who doesn't look like them, check. Leader with a tiny villain mustache and a tendency to go into apopleptic rage when he doesn't get his way, check. All this from a country that was ordinary, believable, and dare I say it sometimes even sympathetic in previous seasons.

I wouldn't even mind the lack of originality if they weren't so heavy-handed about it. Apparently we're supposed to believe that in the middle of the war the Germans attacked their allies the Russians, starting an unwinnable conflict on two fronts, just to show how sneaky and untrustworthy they could be? And that they diverted all their resources to use in making ever bigger and scarier death camps, even in the middle of a huge war? Real people just aren't that evil. And that's not even counting the part where as soon as the plot requires it, they instantly forget about all the racism nonsense and become best buddies with the definitely non-Aryan Japanese.

Not that the good guys are much better. Their leader, Churchill, appeared in a grand total of one episode before, where he was a bumbling general who suffered an embarrassing defeat to the Ottomans of all people in the Battle of Gallipoli. Now, all of a sudden, he's not only Prime Minister, he's not only a brilliant military commander, he's not only the greatest orator of the twentieth century who can convince the British to keep going against all odds, he's also a natural wit who is able to pull out hilarious one-liners practically on demand. I know he's supposed to be the hero, but it's not realistic unless you keep the guy at least vaguely human.

So it's pretty standard "shining amazing good guys who can do no wrong" versus "evil legions of darkness bent on torture and genocide" stuff, totally ignoring the nuances and realities of politics. The actual strategy of the war is barely any better. Just to give one example, in the Battle of the Bulge, a vastly larger force of Germans surround a small Allied battalion and demand they surrender or be killed. The Allied general sends back a single-word reply: "Nuts!". The Germans attack, and, miraculously, the tiny Allied force holds them off long enough for reinforcements to arrive and turn the tide of battle. Whoever wrote this episode obviously had never been within a thousand miles of an actual military.

Probably the worst part was the ending. The British/German story arc gets boring, so they tie it up quickly, have the villain kill himself (on Walpurgisnacht of all days, not exactly subtle) and then totally switch gears to a battle between the Americans and the Japanese in the Pacific. Pretty much the same dichotomy - the Japanese kill, torture, perform medical experiments on prisoners, and frickin' play football with the heads of murdered children, and the Americans are led by a kindly old man in a wheelchair.

Anyway, they spend the whole season building up how the Japanese home islands are a fortress, and the Japanese will never surrender, and there's no way to take the Japanese home islands because they're invincible...and then they realize they totally can't have the Americans take the Japanese home islands so they have no way to wrap up the season.

So they invent a completely implausible superweapon that they've never mentioned until now. Apparently the Americans got some scientists together to invent it, only we never heard anything about it because it was "classified". In two years, the scientists manage to invent a weapon a thousand times more powerful than anything anyone's ever seen before - drawing from, of course, ancient mystical texts. Then they use the superweapon, blow up several Japanese cities easily, and the Japanese surrender. Convenient, isn't it?

...and then, in the entire rest of the show, over five or six different big wars, they never use the superweapon again. Seriously. They have this whole thing about a war in Vietnam that lasts decades and kills tens of thousands of people, and they never wonder if maybe they should consider using the frickin' unstoppable mystical superweapon that they won the last war with. At this point, you're starting to wonder if any of the show's writers have even watched the episodes the other writers made.

I'm not even going to get into the whole subplot about breaking a secret code (cleverly named "Enigma", because the writers couldn't spend more than two seconds thinking up a name for an enigmatic code), the giant superintelligent computer called Colossus (despite this being years before the transistor was even invented), the Soviet strongman whose name means "Man of Steel" in Russian (seriously, between calling the strongman "Man of Steel" and the Frenchman "de Gaulle", whoever came up with the names for this thing ought to be shot).

So yeah. Stay away from the History Channel. Unlike most of the other networks, they don't even try to make their stuff believable.
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Comments:
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[User Picture]From: jeriendhal
2010-07-12 07:09 pm (UTC)

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Absolutely beautiful. May I please sire your Intrawebz Babies?
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-12 07:38 pm (UTC)

Too many story arcs

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Another problem with this series is that the writers feel compelled to introduce all sorts of story arcs that go nowhere. The Mussolini guy (a ridiculous Italian stereotype, just no depth of character or shades of gray at all - again pure laziness on the part of the writers) keeps going off and getting into scrapes for no apparent reason. He's invading Albania, next thing you know he's fighting the British in North Africa, then he's invading Greece. Why? What's he thinking? We never get a satisfactory answer for any of this. The writers try to toss off some ridiculous remarks about "new Roman Empire" but obviously Italians, portrayed as smart creative people in earlier programs, would never be so stupid to think their backwards underfunded military was in any position to dominate the Mediterranean. Towards the end of the series the writers figure out they have nowhere to go with this guy and so they just have his regime instantly fall apart, and he gets killed by characters we've never heard of before. Very convenient, but not believable.

Then there's that Franco guy - at the beginning of the story we hear a lot about him, he seems like he's going to be a major character. You keep expecting him to step up and do something to help Hitler, or backstab maybe, but he just disappears. Budget problems? This makes no sense.

The Sweden story is also underdeveloped. They act all neutral - the Allies seem to assume they are good guys, but there are lots of hints they are actually helping the bad guys. But nothing seems to come of this and the Allies never seem to realize the Swedes might not be so good after all. Seems like the writers just had no idea where to go with this. Clearly this series just had too much going on.


[User Picture]From: cynicalcleric
2010-07-12 11:57 pm (UTC)

Re: Too many story arcs

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would never be so stupid to think their backwards underfunded military was in any position to dominate the Mediterranean.

And surely they would have learned from their military being such a mess in the World War I series.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-12 07:40 pm (UTC)

Not Original

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There was a Sci-Fi story written pretty much in this vein, but it was a little better. It was written from the point of view of a historian many years in the future, claiming that the stories of a "World War 2" were pure myth. I forget the author, but I do remember a few details...

"The names of the protagonists in this myth are obviously made up: "Churchill, the church on the hill, Roosevelt, the field of roses, Stalin the man of steel, and to top it all off, Adolf; who would name their child Adolf, such a self-evidently evil name?" etc, etc...
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-12 08:32 pm (UTC)

Re: Not Original

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I've been trying to remember the same story: "The secretary of state was Hull? Ship of state, Hull? Too obvious." But I can't get the author or title.
CKLAmlRSdc - (Anonymous) Expand
Re: Not Original - (Anonymous) Expand
Re: Not Original - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-12 07:49 pm (UTC)

believable and internally consistent

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"The difference between a good forecast and reality is a good forecast has to be believable and internally consistent." - Peter Schwarz, futurologist
[User Picture]From: little_ribbit
2010-07-12 08:46 pm (UTC)

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Dude, Scott, you've gone viral! It's about time. :D
From: shay_guy
2010-07-12 09:50 pm (UTC)

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To be fair, they didn't exactly forget about the mystic superweapon. I mean, that's what the whole Cold War story arc was about -- the two sides building up so many of them that a lot of characters thought if they ever broke them out, the world would end.

Granted, that whole arc was kind of an anticlimax in the end, but it's not like they could've gone any other way without having to say goodbye to their cash cow. You know about the producers' stance on reboots.
[User Picture]From: cynicalcleric
2010-07-12 11:58 pm (UTC)

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The Cold War must've been written by George R.R. Martin: lots of interesting characters, lots of politics, goes on forever, never really gets anyway.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-12 10:02 pm (UTC)

Sexist patriarchal show

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All these comments and no one is talking about the elephant in the room - the show is incredibly sexist and racist - all the starring roles are played by white men. What were the writers thinking? People of color are either ignored or shunted into supporting roles - except for the Japanese who are consistently bad guys, and the Chinese who are depicted as ineffectual, quarreling and dependent on the "white heroes" of the US and Russia to bail them out. Did the producers never notice that American combat units are ALWAYS entirely made up of white guys, as if blacks were completely segregated? For the most part women are typecast in archaic traditional roles - nurses, secretaries, wives and mothers. Or worse - simply whores. For the most part women are shown as the passive victims of male aggression. Yes, we get some independent women working in American factories, and a few pilots and snipers on the Russian side, but very few of these women get more than an occasional glance in the series.
[User Picture]From: nelc
2010-07-12 11:27 pm (UTC)

Re: Sexist patriarchal show

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To be fair, there were a few more women in uniform in the British storylines; the Enigma episode had them all over that decoding centre. Though that does bring up the subject of gays. They're nearly invisible, except for that one chap at the decoding centre. But then they killed him off early in the Cold War series.
[User Picture]From: secoh
2010-07-12 10:05 pm (UTC)

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Not to forget that a big part of the plot was done by the Australian and New Zealanders and they weren't even in the bloody credits !! poor directing I tell you.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-15 06:52 pm (UTC)

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Look at how the Aussie and NZ guys get introduced: in the first half of Season One (the one that covers 1940 - the 1939 stuff was really just an extended pilot episode, with a lot of pretty boring filler after the initial opening action. Makes you wonder who green-lighted the whole thing), the British and the French together get their butts thoroughly kicked by the Germans. Then at the start of Season Two, they have the British fighting the main German general, Rommell, all by themselves in Africa. Well, if they couldn't beat him together with their main big ally, the sure couldn't beat him all alone, so the writers needed some magic hero juice. Enter the Ausstralians and New Zealanders - convenient hardy, tough, colonial subject of the British who looked all white and normal so it wouldn't upset the audience, but who could be given quirky accents and manners on top of it all.

I think the writers added the whole Japanese/Pacific subplot in part to get more screen-time for the Aussies, who must have gone over really well with the audience during the North African plot arc. Problem was, by the start of Season Three (1941), the writers had built the Japanese up as really powerful, and already established the Aussies as really good, but too few in numbers for an army of their own (otherwise they would have singled handedly defeated the Germans and the British). So, it would have been too unbelievable to suddenly have the Aussies be the main characters in the Pacific sub plot. Luckily for the writers, they'd already introduced the Americans, and just dusted off the old WWI tropes about Americans starting out as bumbling, ill-equiped and incompetent, but gritty and determined and able to suddenly turn into total bad-asses when mad, with huge armies and tons of weapons. I think at that point, the writers were a little embarrassed that they hadn't thought through the whole Australian angle better, and kind of tried to cover it all up.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-12 10:36 pm (UTC)

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Speaking of snipers, what were they thinking with this One Man Army trope character "White Death"? Kills a battalion worth of Russians and a bunch of counter-snipers by himself, survives an artillery attack with a torn coat, then near the end gets an exploding bullet in the face, but wakes up from a coma same day the war ends? They don't even give any background info, he just comes out of nowhere and kills everyone.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-12 10:45 pm (UTC)

laugh or cry?

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This is hilarious and very well done. I laughed and savored it for a good 20 minutes. Then it hit me ... WTF? If the world truly makes this little sense, perhaps we should all cry.
[User Picture]From: olddguyy
2010-07-17 04:53 am (UTC)

Re: laugh or cry?

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Welcome to my world.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-12 11:03 pm (UTC)

Sequelitis

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Am I the only one here who thinks that the second series (WWII) was done just to cover all the unanswered questions left at the end of the first?
[User Picture]From: cynicalcleric
2010-07-13 12:00 am (UTC)

Re: Sequelitis

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True, but the WWI series had alot of open-ended stuff for a sequel.
Re: Sequelitis - (Anonymous) Expand
[User Picture]From: cynicalcleric
2010-07-12 11:36 pm (UTC)

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That. Was. Awesome.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-12 11:47 pm (UTC)

Well Done - Very Original

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I really enjoyed this post. A very clever and original point of view. I enjoyed it so much I clicked on an ad for you!
[User Picture]From: drowning_kizmet
2010-07-12 11:59 pm (UTC)

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Linked to through The Daily What!
Very clever observations. Way too many cliches in that series to get good ratings.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-13 05:36 am (UTC)

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best blog ever
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-13 12:26 am (UTC)

Babylon 5

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On a side note: hurray for Babylon 5!

I loved all of it~ every minute of every episode and movie. Each character was flawed and sometimes there was real pain lasting episodes and even seasons and your favorite character fell down, sometimes far down. It was the most realistic portrayal I've seen on "pop sci-fi tv" of the human race.

Something Awful forums TVIV board has a link for B5 and will tell you when and in what order to watch the within-season movies (http://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3318333), if this is your first time watching the series.

As a long-time Doctor Who fan, myself, I agree that the two shows are incomparable.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-13 12:26 am (UTC)

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Just so you know, Enigma actually was the name of a cipher used by the Nazis in WWII. That part is actually very accurate.
[User Picture]From: drowning_kizmet
2010-07-13 12:50 am (UTC)

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The thing's a joke. It's making fun of reality and critically looking at it as a fictional TV show.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
[User Picture]From: cakoluchiam
2010-07-13 12:36 am (UTC)

YOU GOT BOINGED

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OMFG I was just browsing my daily fix of news feeds in Google Reader and all of a sudden "hey, that looks familiar... didn't I just read that on LiveJournal?"

Congratulations, dude! You are now officially far more awesome than I could ever hope to be.

p.s. +1 little blue link for "Stuff"
[User Picture]From: lpetrazickis
2010-07-13 02:09 am (UTC)

Re: YOU GOT BOINGED

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Do I see a Wikipedia page in Scott's future?:-P
[User Picture]From: marys_second
2010-07-13 12:41 am (UTC)

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This was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant and great fun to read.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-13 01:58 am (UTC)

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Simply put, history is written by the winners. The Brittish in 1770-1787 were bad because we won. Julius Ceasar was a great man because the people on his side won in the end. It's just how it works. We ommit what we don't like and embelish what we can. Not a thing we can do about it.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-13 04:08 am (UTC)

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... wait, you're seriously arguing that the Nazi's are thought of as bad because Americans wrote about them? I understand skepticism. I understand questioning official stories, and I know people in power are always corrupted by it. But saying something like "we ommit we don't like and embelish what we can" in this context is incredibly disrespectful to every Holocaust survivor, their children, and their families.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-13 04:04 am (UTC)

Same guys over and over

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And then there was that one time the History Channel ran a little mini-marathon with the same group of guys. We're supposed to believe that this one group (or band) was at D-Day, Market Garden, Bastogne, a concentration camp, and then finishes up at the enemy's secret mountain lair.

I think they should just admit they didn't want to find new actors for each scene (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Band_of_Brothers_%28TV_miniseries%29).
[User Picture]From: babita781
2010-07-13 05:02 am (UTC)

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This was a very enjoyable read.
[User Picture]From: black_rider
2010-07-13 05:55 am (UTC)

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I got here via metaquotes, and you're amusing! ;D
[User Picture]From: aegidian
2010-07-13 07:26 am (UTC)

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Epic win!
[User Picture]From: 4thofeleven
2010-07-13 08:16 am (UTC)

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I think some of the problems were the result of casting issues - I heard Roosevelt's death had to be written in at the last minute after the actor quit abruptly, and I think there were problems with the guy who played the Spanish leader, which is why he was built up so much early on then barely appeared again after the Spanish Civil War arc ended.

And as silly as the American superweapon plot was, at least it gave the series a decent ending - too many of the History Channel's shows start off strong then just drag on too long and eventually fizzle out. The first World War series was particularly bad, and I don't think the Korean War series ever got a proper ending at all...
[User Picture]From: cmzero
2010-07-14 09:13 pm (UTC)

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Nah, they were building up FDR's death for a while. He was in a wheelchair with polio for the length of the series; it was just a question of WHEN they'd bump him off. Apparently they were just looking for the right actor to take over for the rest of the show; that's the only way I can explain them tossing two VPs before settling on the guy who played Truman.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
[User Picture]From: fera_festiva
2010-07-13 09:46 am (UTC)

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Absolute genius. :D
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