Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Moving Past Stereotypes

Sorry for the break - I've just not felt the spark to splurge forth any opinions, but this weekend I have been at a convention (Hallowhedon) with some of the bestest people and this has reignited my spark! As you can imagine, at a convention with lots of other TV fans, much was discussed over the weekend. One of the things that I did discuss was the use of stereotypes in writing and shows that I think have given us characters that move past this. 

I find stereotypes really frustrating. I know that they are based in reality (they have to come from somewhere right?) but I do get frustrated with the amount of writers that use them. I understand that sometimes, they HAVE to be used and can be used to change our views of a stereotype, but when it's every character in a show - that's not good. 

For me there have been 3 shows that have really gone past the use of stereotypes and given us well-rounded and believable characters. If you can think of any others, please comment.

Battlestar Galactica (2004 - 2009)

This was the first show that stands out to me as not using gender stereotypes. I think you could take out any of the actors and replace them with an actor of the opposite sex and very little would need to be changed. The characters are so well written and have not been attributed 'gender' characteristics that mean they are then tied to a particular sex. A female Gaius? No problem! A male Roslin? Go ahead!  

Spartacus (2010 - 2013)
Image from: http://images.wikia.com/spartacus/images/1/13/Bscap0011.jpg

The one area that BSG didn't really venture into was having many gay characters. Spartacus did and I dare you to say that any of them are stereotypes! From Agron and Nasir to Barca and Pietros, the show gave us a range of relationships. In a poll of the Top 50 Greatest Gay TV characters, thebacklot.com recently placed Agron at number 5, describing him as a "breath of fresh air". But the beauty for me was that any of the heterosexual relationships could have been changed to a gay relationship and vice versa. Because the characters are not stereotypes in any way (gender, sexuality, etc), they can be played by men or women, gay or straight. The only restrictions placed on the characters are possible historical restrictions given by the time period of the show. This felt like the first time a show genuinely saw past the sexuality of the character.


Scandal (2012 - )

One of the final frontiers of US TV seems to be having actors and actresses of colour playing leads, as it seems that the networks have believed for so long that audiences would not watch these shows.

And then there was Scandal with the enigmatic Kerry Washington in the lead. 

The characters in Scandal represent a range of ethnicities and not a one of them is a stereotype. For this reason, any of the actors, could be taken out and another actor of both a different colour and gender could play that role. It is superbly written. But one of the triumphs of the show has been to have a storyline involving 2 of the main characters in a relationship that clearly has implications due to the colour of their skin, but to never really directly mention it. The writers treat the audience with respect, not like idiots.

(I've got a feeling that as it grows, Sleepy Hollow may well fit in to this category too!)

This just goes to show, write characters, not stereotypes and the audience will love them. Makes me wonder if that is why some shows that we expect to do well, aren't??

 

Monday, 29 July 2013

A Holiday of Reading

I've just come back from a 10 day holibob in Egypt and while I was there I read a whopping total of 9 books. So, I thought I would share with you all my thoughts on these books - especially as one of them was a real corker! 

  1. The Ninth Life of Louis Drax by Liz Jensen - the story of Louis Drax is very intriguing and, narratively, is told from 2 perspectives. This took a little while to get used to especially as the voice of Louis is quite erratic, but it is definitely worth sticking with. Not a great book, but a solid one.
  2. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman - this is the 3rd book by Neil Gaiman that I have read (after The Graveyard Book and Stardust) and I have to say I really enjoyed it. It was such a quick and easy read. By this I mean that Neil Gaiman's "voice" is so easy to follow and pulls you into the story that you just HAVE to read the next page and before you know it, you've finished the book! I was engrossed, both in the characters and the story, from pretty much the first page. Highly recommend.
  3. Life Of Pi by Yann Martel - I was really looking forward to this book and I'm sorry to say, I was really disappointed. The characters and the storyline were very interesting, but the constant talk of religion, I personally found too much. I am sure that if I were in a book club or studying this book in depth, I would find many layers that I missed on the first read. I also found the "twist" ending really annoying. After putting so much faith into the book, it was a bit of a slap in the face.
    Taken from: http://www.harpercollinschildrens.com/books/Divergent-Veronica-Roth/?isbn13=9780062024022&tctid=100
  4. Divergent by Veronica Roth - This is the first book in a trilogy. As a fan of the Hunger Games and the fact that Jai Courtney (Varro in Spartacus) is going to be in the movie (me? Shallow?!), I decided to give this book a go. I'm really pleased I did. I like the main character and it has definitely sparked my interest enough to get the other books in the series. I'm really looking forward to seeing where the series goes in the aftermath of the ending of this book. Definitely recommend this.
  5. A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick - this was my first Philip K Dick book so I was looking forward to it. It was a tough read as the style of writing reflects the minds of the characters - messed up. It is an extremely honest story of drug taking. It is definitely worth sticking with though. I found the author's note extremely poignant and added a reality to the story.
  6. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch - this is the first book in a series and I thoroughly enjoyed it (I've already got books 2 and 3 ready to go). The main character is fantastic and I was really pleased to see a British fantasy series and one in which the main character is mixed race. I was recommended this series due to my love of the Dresden Files series, and although they are very different there are similarities. Definitely recommend this series. 
  7. The Extinction Club by Jeffrey Moore - an excellent book, again told from two different voices, but much easier to follow than Louis Drax. It is set in Canada and covers the topic of hunting, but it is impossibly for me to assign a genre. It is quite graphic in a few places but this adds a definite passion and reality to the book. Highly recommend.
  8. Blood Hunt by Christopher Buecheler - this book was a lovely surprise. It is the second in a vampire series. The first book was good - quite erotic in places - but this second book really takes the story on to so much more than the first book hinted at. Thoroughly enjoyed and can't wait to get the next book to see where it goes.
    Taken from: http://www.ernestcline.com/books/rpo/
  9. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - And now for the corker! What a fantastic book. I cannot praise this enough. As a child of the 80's, there is so much in this book, even though it is a future dystopia! Please read it as soon as you can. I actually cried happy tears at the end of the book!
So overall an excellent and eclectic literary feast!

Monday, 1 July 2013

Spartacus. Just Spartacus.

I mentioned last week that I have recently started watching Spartacus. Well, we finished it yesterday. I am in pieces. I can't think of another show that has hit me as hard as this one has. Even Buffy. Spartacus has completely blown me away. It is supreme television - the kind of series that doesn't come along very often.

But, I'll admit, I didn't really want to watch it at first. The main reason I did watch it was because MANY twitter friends were heaping Olympus sized praise on the show. I also wanted to watch because of the creator, Steven S DeKnight. He has written and produced many of my favourite shows, including Buffy and Angel, and I like to support writers/producers from these favourite shows. But when the programme began airing in the UK, we missed it starting and decided that we would wait until it had finished completely and watch it in one hit - which is what we did.

But why am I blogging about it? BECAUSE I WANT EVERYONE IN THE WORLD TO WATCH THIS SHOW! And I will tell you why (no spoilers in this post but some of the links I've included may contain spoilers).

image from: http://spartacus.wikia.com/wiki/File:Spartacus-blood-sand-kill-them-all.jpg
1. Let's get the obvious out of the way. This is a show for adults. There is glorious, technicolour violence. There are sensual and bawdy sex scenes. There is a full vocabulary of language from the sublime to the vulgar (By Jupiter's Cock!). This is one of the reasons I love it. It has not been distilled down for teenagers, as so much is nowadays. 

It is for adults.


2. The sex scenes. I know this was mentioned already but the sex scenes in the show serve more than the obvious purpose. As with the demons in Buffy representing Buffy's real life issues, the sex in Spartacus symbolises other aspects of the storyline.

3. The cast. The cast is perfect. From Andy Whitfield and Liam Mcintyre as Spartacus; to Manu Bennett as Crixus; Peter Mensah as Oenomaus: John Hannah as Batiatus; Dustin Clare as Gannicus; and on and on and on. For me, there is not a single mis-step in any of the casting.

4. The baddies. From Batiatus to Glaber to Crassus, the baddies are each different and driven by their individual motives, with none falling to the moustache twirling baddie tropes. My particular favourite is Ashur, played by the wonderful Nick Tarabay. What a bastard!
Image from: http://images.wikia.com/spartacus/images/1/13/Bscap0011.jpg

5. The friendships. The Brotherhood of the Gladiators has some of the most interesting and layered friendships on TV, but the standout has to be Spartacus and Crixus (although my personal favourite is between Spartacus and Varro).


6. The sexuality. Honestly, I'm not obsessed! In the show, all types of relationships are shown, but one of the most loving is between 2 of the rebels. They are both men. And it doesn't matter a jot. Where the new Battlestar Galactica created roles that could be played by either men or women (they wrote people not genders), Spartacus has characters that have relationships. Not GAY relationships, or STRAIGHT relationships. Just relationships. No fuss, no muss. So refreshing.

7.  The central idea of what Spartacus stands for. Freedom. Freedom to choose. Even if that choice leads to pain, it is still a choice.


"I have done this thing because it is just. Blood demands blood. We have lived and lost at the whims of our masters for too long. I would not have it so. I would not see the passing of a brother, for the purpose of sport. I would not see another heart ripped from chest, or breath forfeit for no cause. I know not all of you wish this, yet it is done. It is done. Your lives are your own. Forge your own path, or join with us, and together 
WE SHALL SEE ROME TREMBLE."

And there we have it. I'm sure that as soon as I publish this I will think of another lost of reasons that will wish I had included. The trouble is, how do you define what makes something as good as this and not miss something out? If you would like to comment, please do so but PLEASE no spoilers.
If you do watch the show please come back and let me know what you think.



Friday, 28 June 2013

Characters Are People Too

I am currently watching Spartacus for the first time. My plan was to watch one episode per week and blog about it. I started watching it two weeks ago and have just finished 'Vengeance'. We are going to start watching the final series 'War of the Damned' tonight. It is because of this programme that I haven't blogged the last two weeks because EVERY SPARE MOMENT IS SPENT WITH THIS SHOW!! If I'm not watching it, I can't get it out of my bloody head!!!

Anyhoo. As I've been watching it, the sheer excellence of the writing made me think of something done by lesser shows that really annoys me. And that is treating characters as plot devices instead of living breathing things (I know they're not but stay with me a minute!).

The desire of any show is to draw in the viewer. To have them buy into that show. And the main way in which this is done is through the characters. We need to believe in them - their motives, their actions, their desires, etc.

One of the quickest ways to stop your viewers buying into the characters is to have them behave in such a way that goes completely against the very essences that you have spent X amount of episodes building.

For example - Heroes.

Series one of Heroes is one of the best seasons of anything. Ever. So why then, did it turn to shit after that? Here is my theory.

I remember reading that the creator planned to have each season be a completely new story with completely new cast. Maybe the odd character from previous seasons would pop up, but other than that it would be a new cast. Fantastic! I then remember reading that as the show built in popularity the studio "requested" that this didn't happen as the cast had become quite famous/popular and they felt audiences wouldn't like the change. So they didn't. 

So, during season one the writers had spent a lot of time breathing life in to Hiro, Peter, Nathan, etc. Then from season two onwards they then seemed to trample all over these characters - having them behave in ways that the 'people' we had grown to love/hate in series one would NEVER have behaved in! Personally, this was the main reason I stopped watching at the start of series three. I didn't believe in them anymore.

PS - Spartacus DOES NOT do this!


Friday, 31 May 2013

Are you 'avin a larf? Apparently not!

Have you noticed, in real life, one of the things that us humans always do?

We laugh. 

Even in the darkest of times. We laugh.

So why don't characters in TV and film laugh? It has become a real bug-bear for me. Humans make jokes to get through trying times. They don't do this in TV & film. This has a big affect on the reality of the premise.

There have been many shows that are guilty of this, but one show in particular was 24. They never made a joke about the crap they were dealing with and Jack really could have done with a smile! and having friends who are in the Police or Medical professions, I know this not to be true. They have the darkest sense of humour. This is what allows them to deal with the depravity and damage they see. 

With the increase in the extra serious Scandinavian-esque dramas, I think this is only going to get worse.


Now, pull my finger!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Things I Love - Buffy

Two days ago it was the 10th anniversary of the last episode of Buffy being shown in the US. Since then, I've been wanting to blog about the show, but didn't want to rush my thoughts. So, after a little rumination, I am ready to spurt forth my thoughts on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

This is without a doubt my favourite TV show, if not one of my favourite things. No other show, film, book, etc has had the same impact on me that Buffy has. Some have come close - Battlestar Galactica and Veronica Mars for example - but none have matched it.

Some people will look at Buffy and they will wonder why this show is so special to me. I think there are many reasons, one of them being my age when the show started. I watched the show when it first aired on BBC2 in 1998. I was 23 at the time - in my first job, trying to find my way in my world.  At the start of the show the characters themselves were 16 and in High School. Although I was a few years older than them, I could see myself in many of their choices and decisions, obviously not including the areas to do with demons and vampires! But this was another beautiful thing about the show - take away the vampires and the demons and the group of people you are left with are some of the most realistically written and portrayed characters I've seen in anything else. They are trying so hard to be "good", but they do make mistakes and sometimes operate in the grey areas. For me this was the first time that a TV show dispensed with the stark white and black hats, allowing the characters to get a little dirty. Isn't that life??


Image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffy_the_Vampire_Slayer
As well as the characters, I also loved the actors that played them - Sarah Michelle Gellar perfect as Buffy; Alyson Hannigan who can cry like no other actress/actor; Nicholas Brendon playing the comedy and pathos of Xander to a tee; Anthony Stewart Head - so suave and handsome playing the father figure of the show with a twinkle in his eye. And there was also the rest of the gang - David Boreanaz, James Marsters, Seth Green, Amber Benson, Emma Caulfield, Michelle Trachtenberg and Kristine Sutherland. The range portrayed by these actors is immense and I think their success is vastly under-rated.

I also loved that the show was never afraid to do what you weren't expecting, keeping you on your toes and not allowing you to relax when a character's life was in danger. I can't remember the first episode I watched, but I saw a few episodes in series one. It didn't blow me away. I remember then seeing a few episodes from series two - including School Hard with Spike and Drusilla's first appearance - and liking where the show was going. And then there was, for me, the game changing two-part episode of Surprise and Innocence, in which the main love interest for Buffy in the show, Angel, was transformed in to the big bad for the series, Angelus. I remember admiring the bravery of a show to do this and to have him then go on to be a REAL baddie, played so superbly by David Boreanaz.

Then there were the other 'brave'/different episodes - The Body, Once More with Feeling (the musical episode) and Hush (the silent episode) among many others. 

Then the character deaths! But not just the deaths but the way in which they were dealt with, giving the characters the time and space to grieve. This doesn't tend to happen in a lot of shows, with characters seemingly springing back from the loss of a loved one.

A lot of these points go back to the quality of the writing and the attention to detail given by the writers and the show's creator, Joss Whedon. For example, at the end of the second episode of series one (The Harvest) the following dialogue takes place:

BUFFY: Well, I gotta look on the bright side. Maybe I can still get kicked out of school.
XANDER: Hey, that's a plan. 'Cause a lot of schools aren't on Hellmouths. 
WILLOW: Maybe you could blow something up. They're really strict about that.
 BUFFY: I was aiming for a subtle approach, like excessive not studying.
GILES: The earth is doomed. 
In the final episode of the show (series seven's 'Chosen'), as the gang are preparing to face the final battle, this happens:
XANDER: See, it's the eye-patch thing.
BUFFY: Right, do you go with the full black secret agent look?
WILLOW: of the ruffy shirt pirate-slash-poet feel? Sensitive yet manly.
XANDER: Now you're getting a little renassaince fair on me.
GILES: The earth is definitely doomed.

Image from: http://buffy.wikia.com/wiki/Chosen
But what makes it even better is that the order in which they walk away from Buffy as they go to their battlestations, is the order in which she met them in the very first episode.

Perfect!


Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Why Can't A Woman Lead?

I recently watched a very interesting BBC 2 series called 'The United States of Television: America in Primetime' (Linky). This was a 4 part series that, each week, examined a different aspect of US primetime TV - Man Of The House, The Misfit, The Independent Woman and The Crusader. It tracked the development of these characters through the last 60 years of television and how these developments reflected wider issues within US society. I really enjoyed this show.

Until the last episode.

This episode looked at the Crusader - the character that is driven to do the right thing, even if by doing the right thing, they have to do the wrong thing. The characters that work in the grey. Here are the characters they discussed:


  • Jack Bauer - 24
  • Gregory House - House
  • Andy Sipowicz - NYPD Blue
  • Hawkeye Pierce - M*A*S*H
  • Omar Little - The Wire
  • Frank Pembleton - Homicide: Life on the Street
  • Vic Mackey - The Shield
  • Dexter Morgan - Dexter
  • Dana Scully - The X Files
Other than the fact that there are some fantastic characters and shows there, notice anything about that list?

ONE WOMAN?

AND NOT EVEN THE LEAD IN THE SHOW?

REALLY??

And this got me to thinking - is there only one woman on that list because this programme in itself was sexist? Or is there only one woman on that list because, for some reason, a female led TV show just isn't accepted by primetime viewers?

If the answer is the second point, then why is this? Why do the majority of viewers struggle with women led, primetime TV shows? And if so, why do these shows tend to well in non-primetime slots - Buffy, Alias, Xena, Scandal, Dollhouse, Dark Angel, Veronica Mars, etc, etc, etc?

What does this say about the majority's view on the role of women? Are people still so entrenched in their view of what a woman should and shouldn't do that they cannot watch her 'kick ass' - physically and/or metaphorically?

As I have no such limitation on my views (thank you Wonder Woman and Col. Wilma Deering), I really don't know the answer to any of these questions.