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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: rob_t_firefly
2010-07-13 10:05 am (UTC)

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I love this post so much!
[User Picture]From: confusiontempst
2010-07-13 11:08 am (UTC)

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I think what pisses me off is that you are accurately portraying WWII as shown on the History Channel, because they've gone and stripped all of the counter stories of things any allied power, or america, may have done wrong during these wars (except for very rare instances where they have no choice but to admit of an atrocity)

Not that I think the Nazi party did anything but pure evil in the final analysis, just that the absurd onesidedness of the portrayal is annoying.
[User Picture]From: drewkitty
2010-07-14 03:24 am (UTC)

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Wrong? You're complaining about the morality of actions by the fictional heroes? They were fighting PURE EVIL and if they had to destroy cities, take hostages to ensure the good behavior of towns, execute prisoners and let loose the firebombs from time to time, that's just how the ball rolls when you're the Dirty Harry of the piece.

It's not like the victors put themselves on trial or anything. The winner makes the rules; that's the first thing you learn in writing this kind of fiction, and it applies in Real Life too.

Confusing the audience is Simply Not Allowed.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-13 11:19 am (UTC)

Look into the bakc history of Churchill

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What seems to be lacking is any mention of Churchill's first job (by which I mean in his early 20's) as a war reporter (while still in the Army wtf?) to which the writers must have a sense of humour to think of that one, who (because it never made it into the series and is just for back story is called the Boer War, geddit?) and to really prove a point he was captured and escaped a prison camp only to go back to the front lines all over again
[User Picture]From: browngirl
2010-07-13 12:55 pm (UTC)

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I am wiping tears of laughter from my eyes. May I please show this to my coworkers who teach history?

[User Picture]From: randwolf
2010-07-13 01:14 pm (UTC)

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(big grin)

& then there's the revisionist episode, made very late, where the hero, a handsome young ruler of Irish descent who was later martyred, did not use the superweapon despite provocation, and against all advice. Nah. Captain Kirk was more believable.
From: tremor3258
2010-07-13 01:54 pm (UTC)

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This is excellent.

It's amazing what sort of shoddy, low-rent stuff passes for History sometimes, isn't it? :P
From: greglondon.myopenid.com
2010-07-13 02:28 pm (UTC)

It's the sequels that suck

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Actually, I don't think the plot of WW2 is too outrageous. Certainly there are some crazy (literally insane) characters who are in charge of the bad guys, but the good guys don't come out of it with nary so much as a scratch, the good guys end up getting their asses handed to them in the beginning, and a lot of main charactes for the good guys end up getting killed. It is a pretty realistic portrayal of third generation warfare, as far as that goes.

What sucks is how folks keep trying to reboot the WW2 series into sequels where the plot is clearly fourth generation warfare but the writers force it to look like third generation war.

The "war on terror" being the most recent example. It's like watching a bad, unfunny version of the "A Team". In it's very title, the "War On Terror" clearly establishes that it's dealing with fourth generation warfare, (state versus nonstate) but all the characters, even the generals, approach it as if it were third generation war.

The whole "Vietnam" series did the same thing.

And then there's a spin off called "Afghanistan" which has totally jumped the shark. The good guys say they went in to get rid of "Al Queda", and by the fifth or sixth season, there's no Al Queda in Afghanistan, but the show's been going for several seasons since. I guess if they declared victory, then the show would have to be cancelled.

Probably the most unrealistic part about the "War on Terror" series is how the good guys start torturing prisoners with methods that only the bad guys used in "WW2". Remember the WW2 episode called "Nuremburg"? Where the good guys convict, in a court of law, a bunch of bad guys for torturing prisoners? Now we're supposed to believe that the good guys are doing the exact same thign the bad guys are doing? That they're covering it up? And that the general population doesn't want to think about it?

It's way to unrealistic.

[User Picture]From: ceruleanshipper
2010-07-13 08:50 pm (UTC)

Re: It's the sequels that suck

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See, I think "Afghanistan" totally had potential, but then the showrunners really wanted to get a show on a major network and not cable and so they developed "Iraq" and poured all of their resources into it. So in "Afghanistan" we still have no plot infrastructure, poor characterization, wandering around the desert, and all of these loose ends - will the Taliban get back into power? Can Afghans and Americans work together to create a stable government? - that are going to take years to properly resolve. Plus for some reason they dropped the whole women's liberation storyline even though that had a lot of human drama and sympathetic characters. I've heard that the new executive producer's trying to revive "Afghanistan", but short of a miracle I don't think it's going to last two more seasons. Maybe in a generation the reboot'll be better.
[User Picture]From: supremegoddess1
2010-07-13 03:22 pm (UTC)

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here via marys_second. funniest thing i've read in a really long time.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-13 04:17 pm (UTC)

WW

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Remember the Finns episodes, a small group trying to bully the peacefull Soviets. Could have had a few more episodes writen about them. Also , History channal leaves out people from occupied nations joining Nazis to fight Soviets.
[User Picture]From: drewkitty
2010-07-14 02:35 am (UTC)

Re: WW

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There were already way too many minor characters. Something had to go. The big sweep of Good versus Evil would have become confusing if it has been shown as Somewhat Good versus Very Evil versus Merely Somewhat Evil and Quite Convenient To The Plot (Stalin).

The Eastern Front was just confusing, and way too much comedic value for such a heavy-handed plot. One sitcom on another channel (a great lighthearted piece called Defiance about the frolics on the Eastern Front) put it best: "Hitler and Stalin have mustaches. Churchill tried but had no mustache. Roosevelt never had a mustache." I also loved the wedding scene, such a triumph of the human spirit -- especially the kindness of inviting the Nazis as guests.
[User Picture]From: ikadell
2010-07-13 04:27 pm (UTC)

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This is awesome, seriously.
[User Picture]From: drbat
2010-07-13 04:52 pm (UTC)

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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.

Except Stalin, someone who I don't think many would consider a "shining amazing good guy," joined our side when Hitler turned on him and played a large role in Hitler's defeat.

Not to mention we had the whole internment camps thing going on and whatnot.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-15 06:11 pm (UTC)

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Stalin was never really a "good guy" though. He was just there to present a moral quandry to the real good guys, Churchill and Rooseveldt, forcing them to deal with the implications of choosing the lesser of two evils. Plus I think the writers saw the chance to set up a sequel where he turns on his former friends.
[User Picture]From: spectralbovine
2010-07-13 05:07 pm (UTC)

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io9'd!!

Very amusing.
[User Picture]From: gchick
2010-07-13 05:28 pm (UTC)

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Here -have a shiny internet, which you have won.
[User Picture]From: lazigyrl
2010-07-13 06:35 pm (UTC)

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LOL! That is the problem with real life, it doesn't have to make sense. Fiction on the other hand...

A most excellent rant! I also agree with the B5 and Doctor Who comments at the start. :)
[User Picture]From: baddevil
2010-07-13 06:51 pm (UTC)

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Congrats Scott, you have 172 responses you your LJ... I think that may be a record for you.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-13 07:39 pm (UTC)

just a small nit to pick

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The city at the center of the Battle of the Bulge, Bastogne, was held by an American army division (the 101 airborne), not a batallion.

Good story.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-16 07:52 pm (UTC)

Re: just a small nit to pick

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No, I saw Band of Brothers. Bastogne wash held by just a company.
-- Just kidding, the whole thing is only a joke and yes you are right about the 101st Airborne Division.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-13 07:45 pm (UTC)

Brilliant!!

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Clicked through from io9.com
Yeah, you're on io9, which makes you officially awesome.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-13 08:03 pm (UTC)

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Your rap is hilarious but your perspective is wrong. The Russians won, the Germans lost. No need to make it look US-centric, because it was not.
[User Picture]From: redbird
2010-07-13 11:41 pm (UTC)

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That's part of the point of this critique: the focus on those same few white, male actors with American accents, and almost nothing on Stalingrad or Nanjing.
[User Picture]From: nss
2010-07-13 08:09 pm (UTC)

dear goodness!

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Scott! Now's your chance to do what you always wanted! Start an internet meme with a subliminal message/buffer overflow and take over the world!!!
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-13 08:19 pm (UTC)

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hahaha waaaoooooo... you watch too much TV
[User Picture]From: mierke
2010-07-13 08:35 pm (UTC)

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Found this via a link on i09, and I have to applaud your brilliance!
From: (Anonymous)
2011-07-02 03:55 pm (UTC)

jeNszcdVcBGcBQa

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None can doubt the vaercity of this article.
[User Picture]From: kender_ptc
2010-07-13 08:44 pm (UTC)

Classes

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And all those endless college classes taking apart the show as though it was real, just like Lord of the Rings and stuff. Sometime art should just be enjoyed for what it is.

On the other hand, as poorly written as WWII was, I think having high school students pulling apart the show from a writer's TV standpoint could bring new insight into writing the future. People learn more from mistakes than from perfection. Could you just imagine a World History class where each student presents one of the plot devices?

It may just prevent the next sequel. Of course, war shows just like comedies are likely to always be with us. But some originality folks, please!
[User Picture]From: blackanvil
2010-07-13 08:48 pm (UTC)

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Other plot devices that broke the whole willing suspension of disbelief thing:

The Japanese "superweapons" that never really had much effect: a ballon that dropped incendiary bombs to start forest fires, and a submarine aircraft carrier.

Also a strain on the believability gauge: that the much-touted "Land of the Free" would round up and incarcerate in concentration camps people of Japanese decent on the grounds that they might be saboteurs, spies, or the like. Come on, even the later seasons didn't try to pull that one.

And don't forget the final episode of the ultimate weapon plot -- the ship that delivers the weapon gets sunk, and the surviving crew has to float around in shark-infested waters for days before being rescued. I mean, come on.
[User Picture]From: tardis_stowaway
2010-07-14 12:55 am (UTC)

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And don't forget the final episode of the ultimate weapon plot -- the ship that delivers the weapon gets sunk, and the surviving crew has to float around in shark-infested waters for days before being rescued. I mean, come on.

Yeah, it's not many shows that are dumb enough to jump the shark with actual sharks!
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-13 09:27 pm (UTC)

Unoriginality?

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Hordes of Stormtroopers dressed in black were not unoriginal back then, they were the first ones to use them (with such quantity (?)).

Other than that, good :)

And that actress is pretty.
[User Picture]From: seawasp
2010-07-13 09:28 pm (UTC)

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That's an EXCELLENT critique of the "History" channel. They insist on presenting all this stuff that's either cliche', or that my editors wouldn't believe for a SECOND if I put it into a novel, and then they expect people to just accept this crap.

They tell little side stories about minor participants and they STILL can't keep from being ridiculous about it, too. There's these guys from Norway -- the little conquered country -- who did some nice little soldiering, one of them did some good spy work. Anyway, one of them's an anthropologist who has this ridiculous theory on how the Polynesian islands were populated from South America, and no one believes him and they tell him it's a crazy theory. So he storms out just like any oppressed hero-scientist, gets himself and five friends together and builds a balsa-wood raft and SAILS TO POLYNESIA all by himself to prove it. A raft like no one had built in centuries, and he and his all-white cast of heroes go build one PERFECTLY and sail there ON THEIR OWN.
[User Picture]From: houseboatonstyx
2010-07-14 04:46 am (UTC)

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I think there's a timeline where it went the other direction.
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