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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.

[User Picture]From: drdoug
2010-07-12 03:17 pm (UTC)
I've seen some spin-off stuff based around the development of that Deus Ex Machina 'superweapon' and it's just as bad rubbish. Real scientists doing real science are nothing like that.

The story is they get all these leading scientists together, and they all work on one single project, all at the same time, with nobody worrying about grants or publications. Yeah, right. And they have this one joker guy Feynman, obviously there for comic relief, and he goes around picking generals' safes, sneaking secrets and contraband off the base where they're developing it, and generally being a PITA about everything, but even though this is the Most Secret Project Ever, and it's Total War, they never court martial him or anything and just let it all go because ... well to be honest it's never really addressed as a problem. He even gets his own spin-off spin-off series where they imply he was some kind of genius, but he clearly wasn't a key figure on the superweapon project, and really you can't take this later stuff remotely seriously - it jumps the shark very near the beginning where he gives pick-up advice to young men based on his extensive experience in topless bars, and just gets worse until towards the end there's this really silly bit where he gets called in to investigate a huge space disaster like he's Sherlock Holmes and "proves" his point by doing this really cheesy trick with smashing a bit of rubber that he's frozen in liquid nitrogen.
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[User Picture]From: avva
2010-07-12 04:45 pm (UTC)
Also, did you notice that later on they became so desperate that they tried to reinvent this Feynman character first as a musician, then as a painter? I mean, come on! At its worst, "The Big Bang Theory" was never as ridiculous as that.
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-12 04:53 pm (UTC)
Not liquid nitrogen, ice water. Feynman put a sample of the O-ring in ice water, broke it up with his hands, then said something like "this may have some relevance to the question of whether the O-rings fail at 32 F"
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[User Picture]From: lederhosen
2010-07-13 07:21 am (UTC)
You should see the Paul Robeson character they had in another series. Painful Mary Sue.

He's a black guy whose father was an ex-slave, despite which he not only manages to get into Rutgers (this during WWI) but he's so smart he gets to be valedictorian and do a law degree at Columbia alongside William O. Douglas. Oh, and he's also an All-American footballer, supposedly the greatest one of his era.

But then they got bored of the law and football angles, so he becomes a star musician and actor. And then there's a political bit where he's OMG SO MISUNDERSTOOD and gets kicked out of America by an evil politician... but after he dies everybody realises how great he was and loves hiim again.
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[User Picture]From: zdashamber
2010-07-14 04:14 pm (UTC)
Aw, I thought the "dying wife" plotline was really well-played. They totally sold the "I am in war and all manly and my country is more important than my feelings but I still love her" thing. I see what you're saying, I'm just saying they won me over to Feynman.
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[User Picture]From: pauamma
2010-07-14 06:48 pm (UTC)
Also, they actually showed this liquid nitrogen in pitchers, with cubic chunks of solid nitrogen floating on the liquid phase, and while the pitchers were open and the nitrogen exposed to a shirtsleeves atmosphere, it didn't boil! So not only the plot is absurd, they make it worse with ludicrously bad science! A real Nobel Prize winner would probably die of embarrassment on the spot. *sigh*
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-15 12:44 pm (UTC)

N2? We don't need no steenking N2!

"frozen in liquid nitrogen"

It's worse than that! He actually pulled this stunt off with a glass of ice water! And to make it worse, there was no ice water at the table. He had to call for some. You could feel the tension as the camera cut from Smart Guy to empty glass, to empty hallway, to Smart Guy (super closeup), trying to build up tension as it was getting closer and closer to Smart Guy's turn to contribute to the discussion. And the glass of ice water arrives Just In Time. What a joke!

[Actually, Feynman did prove it with ice water. After all, the point was to prove that the rubber O-rings would become brittle at the cold atmospheric conditions surrounding the launch. I don't think the air temperature reached liquid nitrogen levels even on the worst of days :-p]
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-16 01:42 pm (UTC)


It was ice-water, not liquid nitrogen. That was the point: that the space disaster happened at normally cold temperatures.
Oh, and the part about grant money...good, but inappropriate, since the project was military and money would be created later to pay for it.
Don't forget how they started Operation Paperclip to "acquire German scientists who had technology and skills that we didn't", but it was really just the forerunner of the H-1B visa program to acquire big brains at slave wages for the corporations who own the government......including trumped charges of 'war crimes' to force them into the program.
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