||[Jul. 11th, 2010|10:21 pm]
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.
2010-07-13 10:00 pm (UTC)
On the positive side
At least in this show there's hardly any doctors, lawyers, police or rich people which really makes a change from the usual run of US TV shows.
They really skimped on the sets. But I suppose when you're going to burn models of whole cities to the ground making them out of cardboard made good financial sense. Then there's all that cinema verite stuff using B&W stock footage and "live action" ships and submarines that have clearly been shot in a tank with ripples instead of waves.
One of my favorite minor stories is the Squadron Leader called Guy Gibson who leads a pointless low level flight on some dams using a bomb that bounces. And he's got a Black Labrador called Nigger! I mean, as if!
2010-07-13 10:12 pm (UTC)
I just wanted to say that you have accurately portrayed the many layers of ineptitude displayed by the so-called History Channel scribes. What's next? A series about how the United States allegedly went to war with it self over something as silly as slavery?
2010-07-14 03:37 am (UTC)
OMG No You Didn't
Don't go there. This is so off topic it's not even funny. Moderator? Moderator!
Hello, I came upon your LJ by io9.com's post on your entry, regarding the WWII bit... though I like that you've mentioned Babylon 5 and Doctor Who and agrees completely with that (though I watch DW for the male leads in my case).io9
titled your entry as 'The greatest rant you'll see this week: World War II is full of plot holes, and the writers should all be fired.' The way the History Channel portrays WWII is like a REALLY bad dramamentary.
2010-07-13 10:22 pm (UTC)
In case no-one has mentioned it yet...
The German leader and at least one other important German character have a first name that translates as "noble wolf" or "wolf prince".
Winston is "joyful stone" or "rock of rejoicing"; goes well with Church Hill. Look them all up; it's neat.
2010-07-14 12:32 am (UTC)
Re: In case no-one has mentioned it yet...
the wolf link may be significant in light of the importance of the phrase "bad wolf" in Doctor Who...
2010-07-13 10:33 pm (UTC)
This is the best damned thing I've seen in ages; both the original post and comments are top notch. Thanks, everybody.
Wait, has this not been metaquoted yet? If not, can I?
2010-07-14 12:33 am (UTC)
The name "reconditarmonia" proves conclusively that you love Puccini and must therefore be correct in your analysis.
Well, if you want to believe the History Channel's version of events....
2010-07-13 11:49 pm (UTC)
That crazy Irish sub-plot
It gets worse - there's a sub-plot that the fighting Irish would not only remain neutral, but would deny their ports to the good guys, and get this - they would sign a book of condolence for the bad guys at the end of the season. Not only that, perhaps trying for some paddy-whackiness, they have the Irish partisans preparing to fight FOR the Germans!
I'm here via io9. This is completely brilliant!
I think the most ridiculous part is when the United States completely baffles the Japanese by using Navajo Indians as "code-talkers." Their language is supposed to be so special that it forms an unbreakable code. Really? For a series that claims to be non-fantasy, that's coming awfully close to the magical Native American
This made my morning. Nice work!
2010-07-14 01:37 am (UTC)
You've got to be joking...........
Pehaps the Disney channel would be a better choice for you............
The reason it's called the HISTORY channel is because its about stuff that REALLY happened (wow what a concept)
Sorry that its too much for you to get your head around, so as I said, go watch disney or some such other rubbish.
2010-07-14 02:02 am (UTC)
Re: You've got to be joking...........
miss the point, much?
Your icon is both awesome and oddly appropriate.
THC is an illegal drug that causes memory loss. And I'm supposed to believe that a major corporation would spend millions on historical fiction for viewers who can't remember where they put the remote? Maybe they thought they could make it all back selling ads for pizza. Nope, this whole thing was made up. Not just the "war", but the "network" too. I have to admire the playful creativity, but this is way too meta for me.
Found this via Metaquotes, and have linked to my LJ.
Brilliant work -- though the best part may be the commenters who just don't get it.
I applaud you and stand in awe
No, I think we're all quite serious that this was a totally unrealistic mega-series. Fascinating in detail but utterly implausible in real life.
2010-07-14 03:36 am (UTC)
What an annoying attempt at humor.
>Let's start with the bad guys. Battalions of stormtroopers dressed in all black, check.
He's confusing the stormtroopers with the SS.
>Secret police, check.
They exist in every country.
>Determination to brutally kill everyone who doesn't look like them, check.
>Leader with a tiny villain mustache
No, the villain moustache is the curly pencil moustache. This is plain wrong, the comb moustache was never villainous.
>and a tendency to go into apopleptic rage when he doesn't get his way, check.
I'll give him that, though crazy dictators aren't a novelty in history, so it's as much a trope as it is a cliché.
>All this from a country that was ordinary, believable, and dare I say it sometimes even sympathetic in previous seasons.
He's forgetting that WWII stemmed from the consequences of WWI.
>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?
Again, consequences of WWI, nothing to do with being sneaky.
>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?
No. Death camps were an effort to save money.
>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.
This is called politics. This is *realism*, and the author's world-view is the simplistic one.
>Now, all of a sudden
"All of a sudden," right.
>in the Battle of the Bulge
These sort of battles occur numerous times in history, and they're notable precisely because they're about a small force that successfully repels a large force.
>they tie it up quickly, have the villain kill himself
After they conquer his capital, so it's not tying up anything quickly.
>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.
He's referring to the "destroyer of worlds" remark, but, really.
What an annoying attempt at humor.
2010-07-14 04:14 am (UTC)
Re: What an annoying attempt at humor.
What an annoying attempt at killing everyone's buzz. Way to go, Captain Bringdown! Please enlighten us about our lexical flaws and logical errors!
In all seriousness - antidepressants can help you, friend. Also marijuana. Try it.
2010-07-15 06:24 pm (UTC)
Especially contrasted with the main bad guy being a *failed* artist. And of course, Churchill is a total lush, drinking and smoking and eating huge meals, while the Hitler guy is a tea-totalling vegan. And the whole effort to humanize Hitler by having him like dogs just didn't work. It was too blatantly artificial.
Speaking of names and utterly implausible events...
Don't forget the bit with the cleverly named Yakov Pavlov (do the writers not actually know any real Russian names?).
Supposedly this guy holes up in a half-ruined old apartment building with only 2 dozen men, scant supplies and no reinforcements. Fair enough.
But then these guys somehow hold off the entire German TANK DIVISION in Stalingrad for FOUR MONTHS with almost no casualties.
Give me a break
Heh. The funniest thing about this rant is probably the comments from people that simply Don't Get It.
Not that the rant itself isn't hilarious. A most excellent post.
2010-07-14 11:08 am (UTC)
Haven't read something so witty and ironic in a long time. Truth IS stranger than fiction.
2010-07-14 12:39 pm (UTC)
The German advance was halted in Poland and the rains were about to slow them down when Stalin finally invaded from the East. Most believe he could not believe that the Allies weren't going to crush the undefended Rhineland and that's why he waited so long. The Polish forces broke containment and got to the Romanian border, but were refused entry to that country or refuge by the British. The British did however pick up 10,000 former members of the Polish Air Force. Very convenient that turned out to be less than a year later.
Late to the party, but I loved this :-)
The Churchill character was actually introduced for a minor role (as a war correspondent - talk about an unrealistic career arc!) in the earlier Boer War series, and was brought back and given greater prominence in the Great War series. I guess the fans must have reacted well to him (outside Australia, at least), so they brought him back again for WW2. I agree that he's implausibly overpowered, but at least the depression and heavy drinking makes him a bit more three-dimensional. And his landslide election defeat in the series finale was a nice twist.
Oh, and did you spot that Churchill's name was a callback to the name of the male lead in the War of the Spanish Succession?
An absolutely splendid rant! =)