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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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From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-15 08:59 pm (UTC)

442nd Regiment Episode

Listen, I'm not going to disagree with you about the ridiculous plots and silly characters they had on this show, but I will say that even the worst show on TV occasionally has a good episode. Take the episode about the 442nd Regiment. That's the one about the Japanese-American soldiers who fought in Europe while many of of their families were locked up in internment camps.

Look, I know it's silly to think that anyone would fight for a country that had put your family in prison for no good reason. And they had to make these guys super-heroic too. They had them win a ridiculous number of medals -- I think it was over 18,000 including 21 Medals of Honor and 7 Presidential Unit Citations. Still, ridiculous as it was, it was still a pretty moving portrayal of heroism and patriotism. We need more of that kind of thing in real life, not just badly plotted TV shows.
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[User Picture]From: jd3000
2010-07-16 12:25 am (UTC)
Germany's superweapons were just as equally farfetched, I'd think. We're supposed to imagine they just developed these insane weapons that had never been seen before, and put them to use terrorizing Britain's civilian population and leaving its military completely untouched. And the names! I mean, a cruise missile, a "guided missile", and then to cap it all off, a supercannon so huge it was a gigantic tunnel buried in the ground, aimed at London?

The kicker was the blatantly ridiculous plot twist to manipulate the audience by taking out Ambassador Kennedy's oldest son, Joe Jr, who you'd expect they had been setting up as a major character in later seasons. The way he leaves the show is ridiculous, though. The US equips remote controlled bombers laden with explosives to fly into and destroy the German supercannon! And his younger brother, Jack, whom we fully expected to have drowned when his PT boat was rammed in the Pacific, now turns up alive and well, having pulled his buddies to shore with his teeth? New writers, please.

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From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-16 01:51 am (UTC)

I've been saying this for years

The Nazis were the closest thing history has ever come to a comic book supervilllian.
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-16 06:39 am (UTC)

Re: I've been saying this for years

Oh, c'mon, you need to watch more TV! Ever seen that really old show, "The Golden Horde"? They literally had the bad guys (who were actually the heroes, it was one of those wierd, counter-culture things) build a mountain of human skulls outside this one city, just to show how creepy and evil they were. And nobody could stop them. Nobody.
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[User Picture]From: ella_greggs
2010-07-16 03:22 am (UTC)

Stranger than fiction indeed!

Very clever - it all sounds pretty ludicrous when boiled down that way. All that's missing is the One Ring of power.
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-16 01:48 pm (UTC)

and about the pilot

Then there is the whole silly tie into the the Wild West show in the pilot. I mean you have the Cavalry w/rifles vs the Indians with bows all over again. The writers could have at least given the Polish some muskets instead of lances??? I mean really reboot both sides when you rewrite it!
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-16 01:49 pm (UTC)

Babylon 5

Yeah, First show where the space fighters acted like they were in space, not air.
Go Amiga!! (ha ha, no such computer ever existed).
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[User Picture]From: vertigoranger
2010-07-16 09:48 pm (UTC)
Hi, can I add you to the friends list on the strength of your recent posts? I'm quiet and I don't eat much, and significantly, I'm not anonymous.
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[User Picture]From: squid314
2010-07-22 09:28 am (UTC)
Yes, of course!
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[User Picture]From: luzardo
2010-07-17 02:53 am (UTC)
You, sir, are hilarious!
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[User Picture]From: msilverstar
2010-07-17 08:01 am (UTC)
Damn, I sporfled! and then read the whole thing out loud to my partner who is a military history maven (he pointed out that Churchill was Admiralty too).
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[User Picture]From: kickair8p
2010-07-17 04:46 pm (UTC)

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From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-17 11:09 pm (UTC)
Love it! Wish I could add to the wit in the comments, but I'll just have to sit here and cackle to myself.
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From: (Anonymous)
2011-07-02 04:53 pm (UTC)


It's much eaesir to understand when you put it that way!
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From: cinderbella333
2010-07-18 12:13 am (UTC)
I love you. Best. Post. Ever.
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From: (Anonymous)
2011-07-02 03:53 pm (UTC)


I'll try to put this to good use immeiadetly.
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[User Picture]From: futabachan
2010-07-18 02:04 pm (UTC)
Crowning post of awesome.
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[User Picture]From: humanophage
2010-07-20 02:55 pm (UTC)
Well, yes, WW2 propaganda isn't particularly believable in some aspects. Many doubt the German concentration camps, for instance, and there's a lot of mythology surrounding Nazi racial science.
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-22 06:59 pm (UTC)
Can you believe they named one of the good guys Truman? Why not just go and call him True Man?
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From: staghounds
2010-07-23 01:18 pm (UTC)

The whole "American Home Front" episodes are crazy, too.

I mean in the last episode, the "land of the free" treats everyone who isn't white like second class citizens. Women all stay home and raise babies, if they work at all they are maids or nurses. It is in the depths of this depression, all the factories are closed and there aren't any jobs. There are strikes, and the government is starting to tax the capitalists pretty hard. They can barely feed themselves, with this crazy "dust bowl" drying up the farms. There are masses of immigrants from Germany and Italy, and powerful internal dissidents opposing Roosevelt at every turn.

Then, like it was overnight, look what happens.

The African Americans, Indians, and Hispanics, even the Italians and Germans, join the military just like the White people. The ones that aren't in the military work just as hard as everybody else. The unions and capitalists get along, and suddenly the factories are booming again.

And all of a sudden they are hiring women, who last week couldn't even get a job!

All the opponents of the regime- Republicans, Communists, Isolationists- get behind the war effort overnight. You never hear one word about the internal Fascists who were such a threat before the last commercial.

Even the Pacifists! They tried that in the first series with that Sergeant York guy, but in WWII, they went overboard. 12,000 religious Pacifists doing government work to free up soldiers- at their own expense? They even have a bunch of these people voluntarily participating in starvation experiments!

I suppose this focus grouped well.

They tried the Russians being all happy over being liberated from Stalin at first, but nobody liked that. Too much am,biguity. So all of a sudden these poor oppressed people are gung ho for their tyrant.

Same thing for the people in the European colonies, all trying to get the English and Dutch out until the Japanese come...

Like the conquerors would not take advantage of all that good will.
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-24 01:32 am (UTC)

Funniest moment?

I laughed out loud at the "Back to Work" montage in one of the pre-war American episodes where Roosevelt's just ordering people to do random tasks (build dams, dig ditches, interview old people) and everyone loves him for it.

Enough to get him elected again and again and again apparently until they could find the actor to play Truman. Did they not know that every US President since Washington served--at most--two terms?
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[User Picture]From: fuffy_frog
2010-07-25 07:14 pm (UTC)
hahahahaha!!!!!! who needs reality!
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-29 09:08 pm (UTC)

Almost fell for it!

I started reading your post and couldn't really argue with your comments on Dr. Who except to say that after this many years on the air (and off) SOME poetic license is to be expected. I mean, come on, I remember watching during the Pertwee (now THERE'S a double-entendre name if I ever saw one!) era and seeing the same chairs my teachers used to sit in, only now they were the pilot's chairs on some starship thousands of years into Man's future. 4500 years later and we STILL can't wear out this damn institutional furniture! So I cut them a break when the Sonic Screwdriver manages to do things no sonic device could ever do.

So then when you started talking about "World War II" I took you all too seriously. I was actually reading it thinking you must have hit your head a few times to many on a pointy bit of rock. Fortunately my funny bone started rattling and clued me in that I was taking you far too seriously.

Maybe your next project should be to critique the directing quality or production values of last Friday's episode of "Bank of America Surveillance Video". Maybe you could tell the old lady with the walker that she's not emoting enough FEELING when wobbling her way to the teller's window. :)


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From: jessica012010
2010-08-02 07:04 am (UTC)
This is such a great resource that you are providing and you give it away for free. I love seeing websites that understand the value of providing a quality resource for free.

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[User Picture]From: ingriam
2010-08-09 12:20 pm (UTC)
Well, at least the special effects were good. For their day, at least, although I would be interested in an updated special edition re-release. With some added footage to address the numerous plot holes.
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-08-16 03:11 am (UTC)
I normally stay away from History Channel for this very reason, but there was this one good show they had a while back. It was a spin-off of 'Vietnam' where the young people in America revolt against the war. Yes, belief suspension got difficult because it was categorized as a drama when there were so many episodes about hippies smoking pot and dropping acid, but it had some great characterization and the plot twists were genius.
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From: lauren002010
2010-08-17 11:29 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: platypuslord
2011-01-09 07:57 pm (UTC)
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From: (Anonymous)
2011-01-30 01:57 am (UTC)


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