Thursday, October 11, 2012

Couch Potato Chronicles: the Ponds and the Winchesters

I haven't blogged about TV in a really, really long time, and I'm pretty darn sure that I shouldn't be doing it now, but I'm tired, I've been working a lot, and if I want to take a study break by talking about TV, well, it's my life.  Anyway, you may remember how a couple seasons ago I got tired of "Supernatural" and turned to "Doctor Who" instead.  The new seasons of both shows have hit the airwaves, and this time around, things have turned out a little differently.  The short version: given the choice between the Doctor and Dean Winchester, I'm going with Dean.  What, all of shiny time and space versus grim demon-hunting and family issues?  The TARDIS versus a black 1967 Impala?  A  Gallifreyan Time Lord versus a Kansas native with a GED and a snarky attitude?  I'll tell you why if you really want to know.

It's Not You - It's Me.  Whom Am I Kidding? It's You.
No, this isn't about Matt Smith versus David Tennant.  This is about something else, and it's about a growing discomfort with the Doctor's boundless capacity to spread suffering wherever he goes, whether he intends to or not.  He leaves a trail of bodies (I don't mean the corpses of bad guys who deserved to get whacked) and broken hearts.  I'm beginning to think he's as ultimately pernicious as Star Trek's Q in the sense that we're talking about powerful aliens who seem to think the universe is their personal playground and feel no Prime Directive-like compunction about messing about other peoples and civilizations.  Oh, sure, the Doctor does do his hero bit in fighting off Daleks and other clear baddies, but when he's not, he's riding roughshod over everything.  Now please imagine me saying the following word with Tony Starkian scorn: TOURIST.  And a tourist who ends up all too frequently getting people killed.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't like countless other Who fans swept away by the wonder of the idea of hopping in the TARDIS and vanishing off to untold adventures.  The entire idea of running off to play in the cosmos is utterly seductive.  But after a while, it begins to pall.  Maybe you start to grow up and realize that those adventures end up with blood and injury and running for your life almost every single time.  Look, adventures by definition aren't safe.  I mean, as Q once said, "It's not safe out here. It's wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But it's not for the timid." Fine.  It isn't safe.  But there's such a thing as making an unsafe thing even more unsafe with your total disregard of danger.  I'd rather be off on adventures with Captain Picard than Eleven. Sorry.  Picard's idea of fun is archaeology on alien worlds.  Eleven's idea of fun is riding a galloping triceratops on a spaceship.  It's insane.  And aside from crazy dangerous, it's silly.  It's like the fantasy of a five-year-old boy.  A loose cannon.

This brings me to another complaint, and it only really hit home this season.  I think the next-to-last straw was the episode "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" with its demented mishmash of elements. First of all, the title is so pedestrian as to be boring.  That's the best you could come up with?  You're British!  Clever wordplay should be second nature!  Shame on you.  But worse was to come.  The episode opened in ancient Egypt ... with Nefertiti throwing herself amorously at the Doctor against the TARDIS.  Then before you knew quite what was happening, you have Nefertiti, a Hemingway-esque big game hunter from the 1920s, the Ponds, Rory's old dad, and the Doctor all on a runaway spaceship full of robots and dinosaurs ... and it's headed toward Earth ... and it's about to be fired upon by the Indian military because apparently in the future India is calling the shots for planetary defenses.  If this entire premise sounds mad, that's because it is.  If this entire premise also sounds as if showrunner Moffat threw a bunch of unconnected ideas into a blender and pushed "frappe," that's because that's a pretty decent hypothesis.

When I was little, the idea of riding dinosaurs would have been WAY COOL.  But now it seems gimmicky, as though it's falling back on the special effects cop-out that plagues sci fi TV and movies.  Hey, there's not much of a narrative, so let's just jam as many eye-poppingly cool effects as we can into the visuals!  The same sort of thing happened with the casting.  Sure, it was cool to see Arthur Weasley of the Harry Potter films show up as Rory's dad, just as it was cool to see Lestrade of the new BBC "Sherlock" appear in the guise of the big game hunter.  But once the initial "oh, look!" faded, the whole thing felt like stunt casting. So I was watching stunt-casted sci fi/BBC favorites run around doing ridiculous things for a demented premise for ... If there was a great goal than ratings, then I couldn't find it.  The wisecracking robots were the worst, doing their shtick in their service to their evil master ... who happened to be stunt-casted too - hey, kids, it's David Bradley, I mean, Argus Filch from Harry Potter!  And he wants to buy Nefertiti as if she were a museum artifact.  Hey, human trafficking Argus Filch ... in spaaaaaaaaaaaace!  At that point, I remember just rolling my eyes.

Then there was the mid-season finale of "The Angels Take Manhattan," which was also the much-ballyhooed farewell of Amy and Rory.  The spoilerriffic review by Flick Filosopher says a lot of the things that I wanted to say.  I'll add this too: Moffat seemingly couldn't decide what to do with the Ponds (or the Williamses, as you please) - kill them off?  not kill them off?  Hey, let's throw in River Song!  Let's put it all in 1938 New York!  Let's screw around with a book somehow locking down time!  Let's make the Statue of Liberty a Weeping Angel though that makes no sense at all once you get past the initial "oooooo!" of the idea.  Once you engage your higher brain functions, you realize that this is just not feasible.  (Seriously, every time the Angels show up, they get less scary.  Moffat should have just left them as a glorious one-off baddie in "Blink.")

Then there was that creepy moment when River tells Amy that one must never let the Doctor see you aging.  You know what, DOCTOR?  Aging is part of life.  You might live forever or whatever, but other people don't, and you will have to freaking grow up and deal with it.  That entire exchange smacked of: "Let us indulge the Doctor in his selfish Peter Pan fantasies because we love him so much we won't stand up to him and call him on it."

Anyway, I got tired.  I got tired of this season's episodes crammed with things - so many things that it felt as though deep emotional resonances were left on the sidelines.  All the hoopla about how the farewell of Rory and Amy was supposed to be a heartbreaking event got the entire audience all worked up with expectation ... but the actual execution of it left me cold.  I got tired of the irresponsibility of it all, the lack of reasonable narrative construction, the substitution of metaphorical shiny objects for personal investment.  I wanted out of that gorram TARDIS.  At least for now.

Carry On, My Wayward Son
And so I found myself again roaming the back roads with the Winchester boys, mixing it up with their demons both metaphorical and all-too-actual.  I had given up on "Supernatural" halfway through the previous (seventh!) season, because I couldn't handle what happened to my favorite supporting character.  But I eventually went back and caught up before last week's season premiere.  I still think last year wasn't the show's best season.  Let me digress by saying that in some ways its first three seasons hit high points that later ones didn't because there was a simplicity back then.  There was something gloriously simple about two wisecracking brothers roaming the back roads of the Midwest, hunting monsters, saving people, listening to great classic rock, and living by Dean's creed of "let's kill some evil sons of bitches and let's raise a little hell."  And it worked.  It was about family and perseverance and sacrifice and doing what was right instead of what was easy.  And, boy, did it work.

Which brings me to now.  We've only had two episodes of the new season, but they're enough to make me keep watching again.  It's really about two elements: Dean the Damaged Hero and The Slimy Splendor of Crowley.  Mark Sheppard as the King of Hell is magnificent, easily the best and most interesting villain we've seen in a long, long time.  Not even previous seasons' Lucifer could hold a candle to Crowley.  He by himself is reason enough to watch "Supernatural" again.  Then there's Dean Winchester, long-suffering Dean who just keeps slogging on despite everything.  The good son, the loyal big brother, soldiering on, wounded or not - but usually wounded, day in and day out, when the choices are never good, when the chips are down, and always with a wisecrack.  He's both very complicated and very simple.  Oh, he loves him some gluttony and lust, he loves him some pie, he loves his classic rock and his Metallicar and his movie quotes and his fictitious BustyAsianBeauties.Com, but at the end of the day, the guy's got a crazy solid sense of morality, and Jensen Ackles has done a great job with him.

So Dean it is.  Maybe I won't get to roam the galaxies and accidentally marry Henry VIII along the way, but I'll happily take driving down that country road with pie and all the classic rock and metal a girl could want while trying to save the world. Again.

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