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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:
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-12 06:48 pm (UTC)

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You know, what pisses me of is the fact that they decided to call it World War II. I mean, at that point there wasn't any World War I, but instead they take the Great War series and renames the whole thing!

And just the Great War, the plot leading out to the outbreak is so cluttered and confused nobody really knows what happened or whose fault it was, but everyone tends to blame Germany. Then they have this boring long almost four year arc on the western front where almost nothing happens apart from people dying and almost everyone seems to be a poet. I also find it almost unbelievable the way they always portray the British Generals as almost stupid and out of touch with reality and continuing to do the same kinds of attacks time and time again. Strategy doesn't work that way!

And not to mention that they solve that arc by an "America saves the day!" when they join in the last year after some line-cruiser or something sank. And those "secret weapon" "tanks", supposedly named such to fool German spies into believing they were water tanks, which were so slow that artillery could home in on them easily.
[User Picture]From: cynicalcleric
2010-07-12 11:54 pm (UTC)

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Then the Korean War series came along and they bring back one of the World War II characters in a leading role. The first season is really exciting with things going back and forth (but that Inchon episode was so unrealistic - that would never work!). But its almost like the writers didn't expect the show to be renewed after that first season so they used up all their good ideas. After they resolve the cliffhanger finale with the Chinese attacking, the series just goes nowhere and nothing much happens. It just finally ends randomly after several more seasons without any real resolution. And they wrote out the main American general character (the one that reprised his big role from World War II) for no real reason.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-13 02:18 am (UTC)

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Worst sequel EVER.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-13 12:38 pm (UTC)

korean war series

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i dunno, i kinda enjoyed the korean war's medical drama aspect. All those cool wisecracking doctors sitting around contemplating life's melodrama and getting into moral quandaries...

or am i confusing that with a documentary i saw about a hospital? nevermind!
From: archersangel.blogspot.com
2010-07-15 02:47 am (UTC)

Re: korean war series

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LOL!
From: (Anonymous)
2010-10-25 05:44 am (UTC)

American general - actor too demanding

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Contract dispute got ugly and so they just wrote him out of the series, take that!
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-13 03:51 am (UTC)

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sequels are usually never as good as the original
[User Picture]From: mari_redstar
2010-07-13 07:56 pm (UTC)

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I have no cites for this, but I heard somewhere that people were calling the Great War 'World War One' even while it was still going on, in order to be fashionably cynical. "World War One! Because there are probably going to be lots more world wars! Humanity is really awful, is what I'm saying. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go move to Paris and get really into Dada."
[User Picture]From: houseboatonstyx
2010-07-14 04:43 am (UTC)

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Well, they might be going to study artifacts date-stamped 'B.C.'
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-15 05:55 pm (UTC)

New Writers changing the style

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Well, the whole "Great War/WW One" thing was a total dud in the ratings. Nobody liked it. It was all artsy, dystopian and angst-ridden, and it used the old, worn-out trope of incompetent elites getting everyone killed because they were too stupid and undeserving to be leaders. Seriously, they even had one whole country - Russia - actually have a successful revolt of the proletariat. And once they did that, the writers realized they had to have "America saves the day" because if the bad guys suddenly didn't have to worry about that second front and could focus all their forces on the French and British, they'd crush them. So voila, the inexperienced, under-equipped Americans (introduced at the end of the third season for comic relief) suddenly morph during Season 4 into these total bad-asses who, it turns out, are way better shots than anyone else, and even their country bumpkins can wander around the battlefield killing enemy soldiers like it was an arcade game (the writers weren't really any better at names for this series either - they named the "Yank" hero "Sgt York").

So I'm not really surprised that when the producers got around to doing the sequel, they went for a more action-oriented, Good-guys-vs-bad-guys theme.

I will give the WWI prop guys credit though. The weapons and stuff they came up with were usually cooler looking that the WWII stuff, even if it was a bit impractical. I mean, they had this flimsy looking kites for airplanes, and actually had Zeppelins! Neither was very believable for a war (a big bag of gas? when the enemy has machine guns? Right...), but the were definitely cool in that Steampunk way. The WWI costumes were more colorful to (the Germans had those cool picklefork helmets in WWI, though the helmet the WWII prop guys came up with for them was definitely pretty sinister).

From: (Anonymous)
2010-11-13 03:06 am (UTC)

Let's Be Fair

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They were setting up the American arc from fairly early on- remember the Zimmerman telegram?

Speaking as an average viewer, it actually did look like Germany's fault. Their Shchlieffen plan made war sorta inevitable. Although the characters were sortof stupid- why is Serbia so important to the Russians now?

At least one British general (if I remember right) had a half-baked excuse- he wanted to bring back the age of cavalry through a great breakthrough. Sounds a bit lame to me, but still...

(Also, they kinda set it up. Remember the Crimea arc?)