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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:
[User Picture]From: nelc
2010-07-12 05:45 pm (UTC)

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I just want to point out a slight error in your piece: the Churchill character was actually First Sea Lord, which is a kind of admiral according to the series' bible, in the first series. What's interesting in a total breakdown of continuity kind of way is that his back history has him in the army before this. So it's easy to see how you made your mistake in calling him a general. It's what you'd expect, after all, if the writers hadn't been more concerned with the Rule of Cool than realism.

Also, has anyone noticed just how many superweapons there were in this series? Every time things get slow, they pull a secret weapon out of nowhere. Early on, when the good guys are facing the invasion, it looks like it's all over for them? They unveil this super-secret invisible detection system out of nowhere to track the enemy bomber squadrons. And it works perfectly, in contrast to the bad guys' secret weapons which when they work aren't used properly, and when they are used properly are just too big to use, incredibly delicate or melt their users. The only weapons that work well and are used properly are those undersea boats and that magic 88mm gun (which tends to get used in everything).
[User Picture]From: sianmink
2010-07-12 06:47 pm (UTC)

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Totally implausible prototypes and superweapons, and from a power that was struggling to produce enough fuel for its mechanized forces! Totally unbelievable, and already been played to death in giant robot anime, thanks.
[User Picture]From: mhammer
2010-07-13 07:44 pm (UTC)

So True!

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If Robotech: Masters (aka: Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross) has taught us nothing, then we should KNOW that there are two things that make you invincible:

1) having absolutely no intelligence on your enemy's capabilities, intentions or even origin (happens about every time the Earthers go into combat: "But we don't know anything about them!" "It's okay! Mount up!" and our plucky gang wins!)

2) operating on fumes (as the Masters almost always go into battle talking about how they have no fuel left before kicking Earther butt)
[User Picture]From: xiphias
2010-07-12 07:15 pm (UTC)

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Why did they even go with the term "First Sea Lord"? I mean, yeah, it sounds "cool", I guess, in a sort of "living in your parents' basement playing video games" way, but it's not at all a believable title.

With the superweapons -- what about that bit where after the war, the good guys capture a bunch of bad guy mad scientists, and then use them to fly to the freakin' moon. For absolutely no adequately explained reason. It's not like the good guys then set up moon bases or anything. It's totally a dropped plotline.
[User Picture]From: nelc
2010-07-12 11:33 pm (UTC)

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Well, I hear that the effects for the Moon plotline weren't terribly good. Lots of technical mistakes, apparently, there's whole websites picking them apart. The producers probably didn't have the budget for something so ambitious, really, they needed the money for the SE Asia storyline so they wrapped it up quickly.
[User Picture]From: elfs
2010-07-12 07:40 pm (UTC)

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Well, the cruise missiles (cruise f'ing missiles! At that level of technology! What were the writers thinking?) worked pretty well.
[User Picture]From: drewkitty
2010-07-14 02:11 am (UTC)

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The ones in the Pacific were rather anime-ish, if a little morbid.
[User Picture]From: drewkitty
2010-07-14 02:14 am (UTC)

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>> Also, has anyone noticed just how many superweapons there were in this series? Every time things get slow, they pull a secret weapon out of nowhere. Early on, when the good guys are facing the invasion, it looks like it's all over for them? They unveil this super-secret invisible detection system out of nowhere to track the enemy bomber squadrons.

Well, the secret weapons were actually SEKRIT. It's a bad choice in thematic presentation, no foreshadowing.

The really unbelievable part is how the Germans had the Super Blitzkreig (really, multi-hit combos, how ridiculous!) but actually had less mecha, I mean tanks. The German mecha was really good and everyone else's mecha sucked, but they still won.

[User Picture]From: zdashamber
2010-07-14 04:22 pm (UTC)

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Not to toot my own horn, but I wrote a fanfic based on Churchill in the first series to sort of try to fill in the army thing and see what happened after... The basic idea is, he goes to the Middle East and reshapes it all, over the objections of another guy there who hates him because Churchill escaped a prison camp in a war when he was a really young guy and got a lot of heroic press but the other guy had to sit it out in the prison camp.
[User Picture]From: nelc
2010-07-17 03:19 pm (UTC)

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Oh, and I just want to mention the bit on the commentary track, where the director says that the SFX guys said that 88mm wouldn't have been that powerful, but they called them 'eighty-eights' anyway because it sounded cool. :)
From: staghounds
2010-07-23 12:20 pm (UTC)

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Actually, he wasn't the "First Sea Lord"- that was an admiral. He was the "First Lord of the Admiralty", which is a politician- like Secretary of the Navy.

But before that, he had a bunch of other careers. He got Fs in school, but ended up as an officer in the army. WHILE he was a journalist! Like the army or the newspapers would let that happen. Then he gets captured in a war, and runs for office. He gets elected, and within a few years he is in the Cabinet. Oh, did I mention he switched parties first?

THEN, after he gets hounded out of office, they make him a battalion commander!

And THEN, back to politics, and the Cabinet, AGAIN. All in two years. Sheesh.

Oh, and just by "coincidence" his mother is an American.
[User Picture]From: necturus
2013-01-02 01:02 pm (UTC)

Not First Sea Lord

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Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty, the head of "the commission for executing the office of Lord High Admiral". This position was always held by a civilian ("stick close to your desks and never go to sea, and you all may be rulers of the Queen's Navy"). The First Sea Lord, by contrast, was the highest ranking naval officer on the same commission.
From: kramartini
2013-07-25 02:15 am (UTC)

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And even the undersea boats were rendered vulnerable by a magical dolphin-like device that "sees" through the water. Almost as bad as the space whales taking down earth's power grid in Star Trek IV...