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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: jeriendhal
2010-07-12 07:27 pm (UTC)

Re: And some of the dialog!!!!

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Oh, God. The whole Pacific War arc was an utter mess. For Ex:

The Pearl Harbor episode: Okay, I can almost see a massive miscommunication between the diplomatic corps and the military arm causing them to attack before actually declaring war. And the loss of the Arizona was handled very movingly. But the oh so convenient fact that none of the Pacific fleet's carriers were in port when practically all of its battleships were defies believability. Never mind flat out stupid moves by the base commander like stacking up all of his planes in nice, neat, shootable rows and ignoring reports of Japanese subs in the area.

Coral Sea: My favorite episode, I'm forced to admit. A good cat and mouse game between the opposing fleets, though Halsey's temper tantrum over the one encoded message was a little over the top. Unfortunately it leads too...

The Battle of Midway: This is where the show really Jumps the Shark. First off the Japanese fall for a schoolboy trick by the US Navy's codebreakers to identify their target. Then the writers manage to drag the Yorktown, which at the end of the previous episode they had said would take months to repair, back into action after just three days. And of the course the bad guys act like the Three Stooges and get caught with their pants down because they can't figure out if they want to use bombs or torpedoes. And the climactic battle is over and done in less then ten minutes at the end. Hell, Halsey isn't even in the episode at all. (Apparently the actor had a falling out with the production team. That's the only explanation I can come up for them putting him down with a humiliating skin disease).
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-12 07:58 pm (UTC)

Re: And some of the dialog!!!!

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The "Eastern Front" arc was almost as bad. Germans are on the edge of total victory! Nope, Russians pull out last second stop. Germans on edge of total victory again! Nope, Russians pull out last second stop. Germans on edge..!! You get the idea. It got tiresome. Then the last part of the arc is just an unbearable slow grind, show after show where any idiot can see the Germans are going to lose, except the Germans themselves - just end the damn thing already!

The whole thing is a mess because neither protagonist is very likable. We've already seen the Russians do awful things to Finland, Poland and the Baltics, not to mention their own people. But now we're supposed to root for them. I guess the writers hadn't thought that through when they decided a German betrayal would make a good plot twist. So they make the Germans just unbelieveably inhuman to build up sympathy for the Russian side. I mean levels of inhumanity even the Germans never came close to demonstrating before. Mass murders that simply make no sense. People have already mentioned the ludicrous "kill all the Jews" subplot. But we're also clearly shown that a lot of the Ukrainians and Belorussians are happy to see the Germans show up. Why would the Germans start killing and oppressing them?
[User Picture]From: jeriendhal
2010-07-12 08:23 pm (UTC)

Re: And some of the dialog!!!!

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There really is a lack of sympathetic characters in the whole series. The Patton character for one really annoyed me. He's set up in the North Africa arc is this wunderkin Ender Wiggin's style military genius, with some wierd New Age vibe as he's supposedly living out his past lives during his campaigns. Then once we've supposedly swallowed that he's made completely unsympathetic by slapping the hell of a soldier suffering from PTSD, in front of reporters no less. Oi. I'm glad the writers killed him off in the postscript episode.
[User Picture]From: elfs
2010-07-12 09:26 pm (UTC)

Re: And some of the dialog!!!!

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Oh, I dunno. I think he was one of the better characters. At least his cardboard was thick.
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-13 08:39 pm (UTC)

Re: And some of the dialog!!!!

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Yeah, but speaking of Finland but at least they were able to get their groove back in that one episode, what was it? "The Winter War"? The problem is it takes this great character that's gone through all this pain and suffering at the hands of the Germans, and then they have to fight Russia! Then to make it even worse, some idiot writer only gives them like 100,000 men to fend off 3 MILLION Soviets? I mean, COME ON. Is Finland really wanting out of the series that bad that they're gonna give him such a crappy death?

Apparently contract negotiations went better by the time that they wrapped up the second episode, because the second FLUB was made on the part of the writers, and the Finns end up killing over a million soldiers!We're supposed to swallow THAT? They fought with what... Tactics? Home Turf Advantage? Taking "advantage" of the poor weather conditions? Gimme a break. If Finland was gonna be written out of the series they could have done so much better than that, and then to insult the audiences intelligence at the end like that is just awful...
From: (Anonymous)
2010-07-20 02:15 pm (UTC)

Re: And some of the dialog!!!!

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I think you're mixing some of the characters up; I don't think Finland had any problem with the Germans before the very last episodes, and having been attacked by the SSSR they kind of naturally fall in with the Germans. Which unfortunately eliminates them, in the eyes of many people, from the contest to be one of the few sympathetic characters in the whole series.
[User Picture]From: naath
2010-07-14 09:07 am (UTC)

Re: And some of the dialog!!!!

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Of course the whole "Eastern Front" arc was just a crappy remake of the "1812" series shown previously. Although you might not have caught that one, it didn't have Hitler in it so I think it was on at really strange times.