Category Archives: TV Shows

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D

I have not watched any more Sleepy Hollow because it has broken several rules of decent storytelling. Also, its not as much fun as Agents of Shield. This is a fantastically fun story about a team of rather misfitted people traipsing around in a very large aircraft solving problems and (it seems soon) taking on big shadowy Alliance types…

Did I just tip my hand there? I suppose it is possible. It seems as though the creator of this show was a big fan of Firefly… Oh right….

Anyway, I do like the show quite a bit, there are a few changes I would have made for the casting of the show though. See my horrendous Photoshop below. I have put into the Agents of Shield poster the appropriate actors for the right roles. There are two that are probably fine, and one our two that I felt a bit missing, so take a look. marvels-agents-of-fireflyAnyway, despite (or because of) the similarity to Firefly, I do like the show quite a bit, although I am not sure if it is as good as Grimm… Grimm Season 3 has been very good so far.

Sleepy Hollow: The Tea Partyest Show?

Sleepy Hollow… that’s right, a wacky show about the headless horsemen which turns out to have been the temporarily defeated horseman of the apocalypse, the witch burnings were actually a witch war, with burning the only way to kill a witch (at least that’s how it seems) and the hero, Ichabod Crane, and a female, black, police detective. So, yes, wacky.

However, it is also delightful. I have watched the first two episodes, and I can only say that I hope Ichabod Crane remains this amazing. I get the impression that his persona is based in some part on Nathan Hale. Ichabod speaks Greek (and two other languages) was a spy of sorts, and is clearly brilliant. (From Wikipedia about Hale: ‘In 1768, when he was fourteen years old, he was sent with his brother Enoch, who was sixteen, to Yale College. Nathan was a classmate of fellow patriot spy Benjamin Tallmadge.[3] The Hale brothers belonged to the Yale literary fraternity, Linonia, which debated topics in astronomy, mathematics, literature, and the ethics of slavery. Graduating with first-class honors in 1773 at age 18…’)

Ichabod is ready to start a rebellion against a ’10 cent levy on baked goods’ (donuts), is offended when the police lieutenant implies that she assumes that he was not too bothered by slavery, and speaks compellingly of reason. He is a most amusing character, and a great answer to the question ‘what would happen if a revolutionary patriot were dropped in modern New England?’ The very fact that it is a fictional patriot makes it even better story wise, since they can mostly avoid the historical fact problem.

I’d write more, but I have only seen two episodes, though I am looking forward to when I have a chance to waste 45 minutes to watching the third. It’s a bit someone went to mix the show Haven with an apocalyptic conspiracy theory, and the Revolutionary war can marching in to fife and drums…

Haunting Melissa

I don’t want to say too much, except this: if you have an iPhone, iPad, you should buy Haunting Melissa. Ok, you also have to like ghost stories. There is so much to complement from the outset, but I was waiting until I saw more of the story. First off, in an age full of instant gratification, here, in the Haunting Melissa app, you have to wait. You get doses of the story based off of some kind of timing mechanism from when you download the app, so everyone is on a slightly different schedule. One of the things I definitely believe about art is that it’s very form reflects the beliefs of the artist. In this case, Andrew Klavan and his pals have made something whose form is a unique expression of the truth. Here we have every viewer experiencing truth in their own way, however, there really is only one truth about the story, the viewer doesn’t affect the truth by viewing it, but the viewers do, in fact see it differently.

On a story level, the Haunting Melissa app/movie thing… has so far managed to avoid the number one fatality of suspense/horror ghost stories. As soon as the audience thinks: ‘Why don’t they just leave the cat…?’ or ‘If you know the place is haunted by malevolence, why stay?’ or the very basic ‘Just leave you idiot!’ This, I think is a major accomplishment through effective storytelling, unique pacing, and giving Melissa a compelling reason to stay. The story is almost entirely devoid of classic spooks, yet it spooks the viewer. And I think the more attentive the viewer, the more spooked you will be, yet almost never by the make-you-pay-attention-and-then-have-a-skull-jump-out-at-you kind.

For instance, the story takes place in Melissa’s home, while her father is away (so far). Her mother basically went crazy and died there. (I will certainly try to avoid anything that cannot be inferred from the trailers.) In her insanity, Melissa’s mother was obsessed with crosses. They are all over the house, and there are probably around twenty in the room she died in… yet, her tombstone looks like this:

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That weirded me out.  Why no cross? I will leave out my speculations, not because they are well informed, but because I am uncannily accurate in predicting plots with very little information. (By the way, the picture’s link will also take you to the Haunting Melissa official website, because I think you should get it, if only to support an innovative entertainment option.)

Also, it is just plain cool to get a piece of the story at unpredictable intervals. That is because the other main problem for ghost stories is that in 2 hours the move is over, and frequently you gag at the ghost at the end it is just too dumb. (The most egregious version of this is Signs, even though that’s an alien.) here, I don’t know how it will turn out, but there is only excitement, no disappointment. And I cannot skip ahead, no matter how much I want to know, and no matter how attention deficit I feel. I get just that one piece at a time. Here watch a trailer:

Anyway, I have always liked Klavan’s idea of a ghost story (see Ghost Story and Agnes Mallory) This just continues the winning streak. I hope both for more ghost stories from Andrew Klavan, and for more entertainment apps like this.

More Culture

I am at least briefly back from the craziness of the last few weeks. I managed to accomplish stuff despite the fact that my body declared war on me and got me sick right in the middle of everything. So, enough complaining, just a few thoughts.

From Roger L. Simon at PJ Media first (then me next…)

People on the right spend a great deal of time and energy excoriating Hollywood, Broadway, and the music industry. Entertainment has become the province of the Left and is hugely biased.

True enough — but it’s been that way for some time. And with all the complaining by conservatives and libertarian-types it may even have gotten worse in recent years. Certainly, it hasn’t gotten better. Whining, it must be admitted, hasn’t helped.

As the late — and increasingly lamented — Andrew Breitbart pointed out repeatedly, “Politics is downstream from culture.”

I agree with him somewhat, although he doesn’t really hit any feasible plans for influencing the culture. Mostly he says ‘Stop whining’ and ‘get to work’.  So while I sit here, waiting for my kinetics experiments, I figured I’d throw down some ideas.

1. Do not self censor your beliefs to make them more acceptable to the world around you. We are called to be in the world but not of it. Of course our ideas such as sin, damnation, right and wrong, are not liked.

2. Euphemisms are evil. I will probably post just on this in the future: the point is that perhaps euphemisms started as tact: today they are disguises for evil and sin.

3. Buy and watch good movies/TV. Since most of us cannot make them, we can, at least, help make sure that those people who make a really worthwhile movie make lots of money too. On the flip side, don’t go see expensive trash like Avatar or popular bilge like ‘The Lorax’.

Speaking of good TV, I have been sick and grading recently and seen some of Justified. It probably deserves its own post as well. Its the story of a western style lawman in modern America, sent back to Kentucky. This is another show that frequently displays the moral difficulties of the world without trying to convince the audience that morality is ambiguous or relative. That and it is exciting, well made, struggles with important issues… and exciting :) Also it has a strong streak of the pathos that inhabits the whole spirit of history.  The show has a similar feel to the song that closes the season (The Patty Loveless version is better, but this one is the one the show uses.)

Grimm: Season 2

Well, Grimm season two has started that that means that I get to write about the show again. Besides being a fun 45 minutes  per episode of adventure and fighting, there are at least three major good reasons Grimm is a good show.

The show manages the almost impossible distinction between morally complicated good guy/ bad guy dichotomy and the morally ambiguous version of the same thing. Basically, any story can have one of three categories of characters; sometimes it can have some of each too. The first category is the morally straightforward characters, whether good or evil. Iago is morally unambiguous and evil, and also very realistic, Captain America from the recent Avengers is unambiguously good. The second category is the morally ambiguous character. This character is ambiguous not because you do not understand his motivations but the character is ambiguous because the writer/director has swallowed the whole fishing apparatus of moral relativism and does not even realize it. I am a little rust on characters like this, since moral relativistic movies tend to be almost unbearable to watch, but whenever the film or book wants you to ‘understand’ the evil rather than condemn it, it falls into this category. However, Grimm falls into neither of these categories. It rather falls into what I would call the ‘real world’ category. Since the reader can be kept unknowledgeable about enough of what is really going on to make it difficult to tell if a character is trying to do something good or bad, that makes it messy, complicated, and realistic.

About the main character, Detective Burkhardt, we know his motivations and his methods, and he is clearly trying to do good. About the mysterious rulers of the Wesen world we know that they are trying to rule everything to their own evil pleasures. However, about the police captain, we simply do not know. We know he is working against the ‘bad guys’ but we also know his methods seem to indicate him as another bad guy. This messiness also extends to the Grimms who can see and fight the Wesen. Some of them (apparently, we only meet a few) hunt Wesen almost for sport, whether or not they are evil. So, full marks to Grimm for making a complicated messy, but not morally relativistic world.

Another impressive quality of Grimm that it avoids much of the repetitiveness that many TV shows have. For instance, Monk’s murder investigations become wrote and tedious. But for Grimm, which frequently introduces yet another Wesen every episode, it does not get tedious. I credit this to its adherence to the feeling of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and to the fact that the seasons have more than incidental season long plots. I don’t think I can really emphasize enough that in Grimm, we find the real psychological message of fairy tales. As Chesterton says: “Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

Also strong in Grimm is the soul of this other quote from Chesterton: (The Dragon’s Grandmother, in Tremendous Trifles h/t Jotter Notes)

“Can you not see,” I said, “that fairy tales in their essence are quite solid and straightforward; but that this everlasting fiction about modern life is in its nature essentially incredible? Folk-lore means that the soul is sane, but that the universe is wild and full of marvels. Realism means that the world is dull and full of routine, but that the soul is sick and screaming. The problem of the fairy tale is — what will a healthy man do with a fantastic world? The problem of the modern novel is — what will a madman do with a dull world? In the fairy tales the cosmos goes mad; but the hero does not go mad. In the modern novels the hero is mad before the book begins, and suffers from the harsh steadiness and cruel sanity of the cosmos.

With that I leave you with a recommendation to watch Grimm: good times, good plots, and a sane man in a world gone mad.

Jekyll

The Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is perhaps one of the most subtle and truest investigations into human nature and the soul of man to be penned. (Incidentally, a book study for it is available under the book study tab in the collection ‘Monsters and Men’.) It is a little book, but it brings to life what is perhaps the most soul-shivering monster ever: the inner man. (Something I talked about when writing about Agnes Mallory.)  The inner man is Jekyll, stripped of all self control, and filled with every unbridled passion.

However, I actually wish to talk more about the TV series, Jekyll. The series comes from a man I am almost convinced is a true master. He has made the show Sherlock as well. I saw that first. While Sherlock is a complete (and very successful) transplanting of Conan Doyle’s work to modern London, Jekyll is subtler.

I don’t want to give away even the slightest about the show, although the basic conflict is exactly what you think: Jekyll vs. Hyde. The interesting thing I wanted to leave this post with, (other than a recommendation for the stout- hearted to watch the show) is the three instances when someone in the show gives their opinion of what Jekyll is, and the final instance when (not Jekyll but.. you know, Jekyll…) gives his.

Hyde is first said to be ‘a child’ in a super-powered body. And this is part of the truth, he is the un-trained, un-restrained, selfish passions of an occasionally spiteful, cruel, child. He is also then said to be evil… which is also partly true, it is undeniably true. Then again, he is described as love.; and this is the most shocking, and yet, the series makes its case. Love, corrupted human love, does frightening things.

However, the real truth shines when Jekyll/Hyde (they coexist in consciousness at one point) is talking to one of the villains who calls Hyde a psychopath. And at this moment, Jekyll/Hyde makes a comment that could easily be overlooked, but I think was the key to the whole show. He basically says ‘isn’t everyone?’

Hyde is unrestrained, undisguised, human nature, and, though there was not even a hint of God or Christianity in the series, Hyde is fallen man. (Jekyll is also sinful, but Hyde has all the love, passion, pleasure, hate, spite, cruelty that live in the soul of man.) And as such, Hyde too, can be saved.

Also, the first time we meet Hyde, it is superbly done, and terrifying. Be warned, but remember, fallen man is terrifying.

Ghost Story

So the other night I watched The Woman in Black and that started me thinking about ghost stories in general. For instance, I cannot figure out why people in ghost stories always run behind doors and lock them, they aren’t keeping out zombies. Ghosts can obviously appear behind you anywhere, they are haunting a location, that location is their playground, so beating a traditional ghost is simple… LEAVE! However, I am not actually hear to snark on the genre, it is too convention filled to mock. I like conventions in stories, like the grand sagas and ballads all had plot conventions. No, I found some parts of the film interesting from an altogether different viewpoint.

The Woman in Black is set in the late 1800’s and it set me thinking about this era, the Lunatic laws, the loss of faith in Europe, Matthew Arnold, and then back to the ghost story. The ghost in question was the mother of a little boy who was proclaimed a lunatic and had her son taken away. (See G. K. Chesterton’s Eugenics and Other Evils)The film makes fairly clear that before her son was taken she was mostly normal, if a little obsessive. But as she is further and further removed from their son, she goes crazier and crazier until her son is lost in the marsh and his adoptive parents (her sister and brother-in-law) escape the car but desert the boy to the quicksand. So she hangs herself and becomes the ghost of the story, who is a ghost of horrible vengeance, who drives the children of the neighboring town to kill themselves.
Enter the hero, with his Victorian sentimentality. Once convinced his own son is in danger, he dredges up the body of the boy, and lays it in the tomb with his mothers body… which has no effect on the ghost at all. And thus we see the people of an industrial age, having lost their faith, and willing to believe in anything. The hero talks in vague terms about his dead wife waiting for him, and others toss about half-believed platitudes about souls going up to heaven, but no body believes anything, and everybody is grasping for something to believe.

Enter Matthew Arnold and Dover Beach.

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast, the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,

Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

So what interested me most about The Woman in Black was the final score. Ghost: at least 12, Sentimentality: 0. So I thought of another, this time American ghost story rather than a Victorian one. Bag Of Bones by Stephen King. (If you read it, it is pretty good just be ready to skip some pages when King gets horrible describing in minute detail the origin of the ghost.) In this case, the ghost takes a few children from each generation, all with names starting with ‘K’ as revenge for her child. However our hero is an impractical enough person to realize that a ghost seeking more and more vengeance cannot be satisfied. (A sentimental mistake of the Victorian lawyer who was the hero of The Woman in Black.) Our hero in this case, once he realizes that there is indeed a ghost, and a particular, very sweet little girl is the target (name starts with ‘K’ and descended from original villain from a century ago.) he comes up with a practical American plan, find the body of the ghost woman and pour lye on the bones… which works for the story. Ghost: Several every generation, Practical hero: 1. A much better score, for a different culture.
However, I leave you with a great very short ghost story. This one is quite good. (The ghost doesn’t do any killing… so there isn’t much scoring I can do…)
Andrew Klavan’s The Advent Reunion. Here is video one of about 6. Do listen, it is well done.

Grimm (TV Show)

Well, I guess I will foray into television shows. Probably will not do that very often, but since the Grimm’s Fairy Tales were among my favorites (and still are) I wanted to write about this show. The show starts with the premise that the Grimm’s fairy tales were warnings, not just stories. Warnings from people who could see the underlying monsters in what otherwise appears to be people to those who cannot. Those that see the monsters are called Grimms and those that cannot are everyone else.

For instance, the story of the big bad wolf and little red riding hood are based on the ‘real’ existence of Blutbaden. Basically the people/ monsters what do this undergo a physical change mostly related to their faces, and physiological changes like added strength when they take their monster form. The main character is a new Grimm (apparently the ability to see these monsters comes after a related Grimm dies.) who is also a police detective. Well, enough with this, the real question is how is it in terms of fairy tales.

The show has two failings. This first is actually only a partial failing. It seems like most really evil things done by people are actually done by the bad wesen (generic name for the shape changers). This is really more of a fault of the setting. For instance, every detective show features way too many clever murders, so here, obviously all the nasty things done are done by the wesen. This strikes against the nature of man. However, the show does redeem itself by using these wesen as models of a very Christian understanding of the nature of man. If one looks at the wesen, the bad ones are driven by evil desires they are born with. However, a few we meet are actively fighting their nature to try to be good. This is never represented as the wrong thing for the wesen. For instance the main secondary character is a reformed blutbad (werewolf) who fights his evil nature in a way strikingly reminiscent of the battle between the old Adam and the new man in a Christian.

The other failing is that it took a while to warm up. The first few episodes were fairly predictable and almost lame. The show hobbles along on the crutches of a few unique ideas and the hope that they will pick up some of the darkness from the Grimm’s fairy tales. Because, really, without darkness, the light of hope of the hero (which in Grimm’s is an ordinary fellow trying to do the right thing.) looks tepid. However, sometime around episode four the story catches up with the feeling of the Grimm’s fairy tales, and by episode 10 the show is downright macabre.

So, to sum up, the show is a fun twist on fairy tales, while it took a while for it to catch the right spirit, it has turned out to be a great re-look at some of the best, most insightful, most human storytelling of all time. (That would be Grimm itself. Don’t believe me, ask Chesterton :) ) The show also gives a realistic portrayal of the trials of sinful people in its main character, and its major supporting characters.