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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: kernsville
2010-07-14 02:16 pm (UTC)

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A truly original take on the subject. Bravo.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-14 02:56 pm (UTC)

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The irony is that a lot of History Channel 'documentaries' are mostly fiction and a bit of propaganda, like 'The War of 1812'.
[User Picture]From: roycalbeck
2010-07-14 03:12 pm (UTC)

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I laughed.

SO. HARD. -XD
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-14 03:36 pm (UTC)

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Back to the Babylon 5/Doctor Who Comparison. I must disagree. At least the Doctor rides around in a recognizable contraption. And I don't know about YOUR experience with plungers and egg beaters but they can be mighty dangerous and it makes perfect sense that the Daleks would use them as weapons. B5 on the other hand: Where to start? Spiders in space? Really? In a VACUUM? And when the alleged ship is destroyed it curls up LIKE A SPIDER? I mean there's a difference between using sfx to please the eye and stretching credulity past breaking point. And don't get me started on the concept of lasers in space.

Then of course there's the whole Sheridan resurrection thing. It's so obviously ripped off from the Bible it's not funny. At least Doctor Who doesn't PRETEND to be original!
[User Picture]From: roguetailkinker
2010-07-14 04:32 pm (UTC)

And then there's the sad attempt...

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...to pretend they're not portraying Germans as Ultimate Evil with that incredibly clichéd Count von Stauffenberg storyline.

I mean seriously; out of nowhere comes this brave and handsome young nobleman of old-school German aristocracy who leads a plot of his fellow officers to depose the Big Bad in order to save his beloved homeland. They even made him a handicapped war veteran, for crying out loud! How contrived!

But of course with this being High Drama he couldn't be allowed to succeed, so their meticulously planned plot is thwarted by some yahoo moving the briefcase containing the bomb and thus ensuring that the Big Bad miraculously survives the explosion. The brave young hero is led out to be shot, but not before writing his wife a moving letter advising her to renounce him in any way necessary to ensure that she and the children survive.

They even made his last words: "Es lebe unser heiliges Deutschland!" ("Long live our sacred Germany!")

Give me a break, stuff like that never happens in real life!
[User Picture]From: agharta75
2010-07-15 04:05 pm (UTC)

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And they get Tom Cruise to play him. I guess ratings must have been slipping.
[User Picture]From: boutell
2010-07-14 04:35 pm (UTC)

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From: materia_indigo
2010-07-14 05:02 pm (UTC)

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The plot is similar to Hetalia, but Hetalia is better written.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-14 05:34 pm (UTC)

Other unbelievable episodes

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There are so many other episodes that are farfetched and unbelievable. The “Bad Guys” are always trying to invent their own mystical super weapons. They even have an episode about all the “Wonder Weapons” the bad guys tried to invent. I think it was to make them scarier in later seasons when they lost their fear factor. In one episode the bad guys even came close to inventing the same wonder mystical weapon the Americans invented. The bad guys just come off as idiots in later seasons, not scary.

There was also a spin off show where the Germans try to actually find ancient wonder weapons (the Ark of the Covenant and Holy Grail) to use against the Allies, but the allies have stop them with a college professor turned super spy. I don’t know about you but now of my college professors knew there was around a bull whip.

And what about in season two where the Russians have gone 0-16 against the Germans every time they get together to fight. The writers throw out big numbers like 20 million dead wounded or captured, but then magically in the episode entitle Operation Uranus we are suppose to believe that this rag tag bunch of Russians who couldn’t tie their shoes in pervious episodes find millions of troops just hanging around who didn’t get the memo that their country was invaded two years pervious. These troops, unlike all the Russians in pervious episodes, are unstoppable ultimate fighters and they surround the Germans at Stalingrad and in every episode after the Russians never loss again. It all plays out like a bad sports movie. Like the Russians were down by 46 with 60 second on the clock, but somehow pulled off a win in the great game ever played. At least the writers didn’t solve this problem with a wonder weapon.
[User Picture]From: bonesparticulat
2010-07-14 05:56 pm (UTC)

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Spot on!
[User Picture]From: bridget_coila
2010-07-14 07:01 pm (UTC)

Marvelous Analysis!

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Great rant...absolutely hilarious!

From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-14 08:04 pm (UTC)

Re: Marvelous Analysis!

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Someone has clearly not been reading the supplemental blogs and graphic novels.

Although I must say his withering scorn and derision has made the 'History' channel change their focus to the much more believable and well written '2012 cycle' 'UFOs (past, present and beyond)' and 'Other Strangeness Man Can't Explain' series....
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-14 09:37 pm (UTC)

were have all the WW2 episodes gone

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All the rights to the WW2 episodes have been sold the military channel and nick at nite
[User Picture]From: adequetefred
2010-07-14 09:45 pm (UTC)

Don't forget

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Another incredulous plotline: The American army uses a bunch of artists and engineers to trick Hitler into thinking that he's losing. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_army
[User Picture]From: houseboatonstyx
2010-07-14 10:13 pm (UTC)

Re: Don't forget

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I sympathize with its incredulity.
[User Picture]From: beckyzoole
2010-07-14 10:45 pm (UTC)

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Bravo! This is a new Classic LJ Post!
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-15 12:40 am (UTC)

Props Dept Cock-up

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In the early episodes the props dept got it totally arse about elbow by handing out all the best tanks, trucks, artillery to the good guys who were supposed to lose, while the super-mechanized bad guys were left to win with horses and fixed wheel aeroplanes! They may as well have been handing bows and arrows to the cowboys and rifles to the Indians. It didn't go unnoticed that the props people skimped by using the exact same trucks for the Russian episodes, plus the very same Stuka seems to herald the start of every single other episode.

And as for the continuity people - pretty much every scene in the prequel had Churchill on a different side of the House, it was more like a Benny Hill skit.

Gerry Doyle.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-15 02:00 am (UTC)

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The whole WWII History Channel debacle is a classic example of what happens when you don't have a show bible and you let SUITS dictate how the show should go. You'd think they'd have learned from watching Tribune crash and burn due to its failure to let the artists actually do their thing but apparently the History Channel is incapable of learning from history. It's really tragic because there was probably an excellent story in there but the suits got to it, "reimagined" it and frakked up the execution. :(
[User Picture]From: ellohei
2010-07-15 03:26 am (UTC)

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Brilliant!

Though I might take issue with the "kindly old man in a wheelchair" bit. FDR was not kind to the Constitution nor to American citizens. People try to portray him as some kind of progressive hero, but the internment of American citizens because of their race shows what kind of man he really was. Add to that his other socialistic tendencies, which some researchers think actually lengthened the Depression (see http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123353276749137485.html), and FDR starts to look like a jerk.
[User Picture]From: ladykate63
2010-07-15 05:24 am (UTC)

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Love it! Bookmarking to send all of my friends who make fun of the implausible plots on my favorite shows. ;)

From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-15 07:03 am (UTC)

Paul Krugman would love this

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Can anyone forward it to him? You know, the Princeton economist, New York Times columnist, and sci-fi fan?
[User Picture]From: lance_vader
2010-07-15 07:13 am (UTC)

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Guys, you need to just chill and watch the shows for what they are.

Though I agree that the story arc about the Winter War really pushed my suspension of disbelief way too far. I mean, come on. The Russians had twice the soldiers, a hundred times as many tanks, and thirty times as many planes as the Finnish did.

And these aren't the Viking Peoples that conquered Europe in the Dark Age season. These are Laplanders. They've never been in a major episode, really. But there they are, fighting the Russians and WINNING! Nobody sends soldiers into a place where they'll all freeze to death so easily. Nobody picks up a bunch of green troops and beats a world superpower with them.

Sorry about that rant. It's obviously all completely unrealistic, but I found the story to be very compelling, and the obvious moral lessons are pretty good things to live by. All in all, there's worse media to be consuming.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-15 08:48 am (UTC)

misinformation about Churchill

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Two points - first, besides his role in World War I, Churchill also played a small but prominent role in the Boer War - but if it is unbelievable that a failed war leader would later become a great leader of a nation, it is twice unbelievable that a mere reporter would later do so; and second, to quote Winston Churchill, "At least half of what has been attributed to me I never said."

Or maybe it was said by the other Winston Churchill, the author. (Well, the *other* author. Really.)
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-15 03:17 pm (UTC)

The yanks

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What I found lame was how they left the Americans out initially and then suddenly when they want to boost interest in the States the Americans are suddenly on every battlefield and in charge of everything. Right, that's likely, well let the guy who showed up late lead.

It was clever how they used the arsenal of Democracy slant to reuse American tanks in battles the Americans weren't in though.
[User Picture]From: evening_spirit
2010-07-15 03:18 pm (UTC)

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LOL. Amazing!

Through the first paragraph I felt kind of offended but then I laughed like a maniac through the rest of your 'review'. Great stuff.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-15 03:58 pm (UTC)

You forgot about the guy who looks like Elmer Fudd...

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...only he's a bit taller, and likes to wear black or grey instead of brown. But he's about as competent as Elmer Fudd, too. Honestly, how did a guy like that get to rule from the seat of the Caesars?

Complete baloney.
[User Picture]From: hagar_972
2010-07-15 06:16 pm (UTC)

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I laughed through this whole thing. Seriously. Thank you.
[User Picture]From: cesy
2010-07-15 07:25 pm (UTC)

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I am dying laughing here. This is awesome.
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