A History Lesson With #SaveTimeless

They say you shouldn’t burn your bridges. I especially don’t want to burn any before I make them (as I hope to write for working TV shows at some point). But I am extremely disappointed in NBC. It may be the #1 Network in the US, but I won’t be watching much of anything on it this upcoming season.

Not after they cancelled my favorite show, Timeless. In this world of political divisiveness and whitewashing in Hollywood (not to mention gender representations in film and television — dammit Scarlett Johansson, stop with the controversy!), Timeless offered the world real representation.

The show had prominent white, black, Asian, LGBTQ+, and female characters.

When the Smithsonian is writing posts about how impactful you are for showcasing diversity and telling riveting tales, you’re doing something right. Plenty of fans around the world loved the show, with regular blog posts and Twitter hashtags (#Timeless, #SaveTimeless, #Clockblockers, #SaveRufus). Indeed, even three months after the season (now series) finale the show is still blowing it up on social media. Come on NBC, how great is that for your show. Not enough, sadly.

The Timeless Writers Room¬†Twitter handle was very active and engaging with the fans — even sending out deleted scenes and script pages (a great way to study the craft!) — as were many of the individual writers, actors, and producers themselves (bless you everyone involved). Everyone working on the show seemed to really love it, and the fans.

The point is, the show is good. It dealt with (mostly) American history in a fun, entertaining way. Not to mention relatively historically accurate — that’s what you get for having an historian as a staff writer (thanks David Hoffman for making my dream job a reality). And it didn’t shy away from the issues that tend to get passed over in most textbooks or classrooms. Things like racism, sexism, sexual identity, and economic troubles.

As an historian I knew a lot of the history and people the show spotlighted every week, but on occasion even I was surprised and learned things. Other people loved the lessons, as well.

It’s one of the few TV shows that has a 100% Fresh Rating on Rotten Tomatoes (as of time of writing). Critics and fans alike loved the show.¬†Which, sadly, wasn’t enough to save it for a Season 3, from being cancelled¬†again.

Apparently it didn’t make enough money. And that, sadly, is what NBC, at the moment, was about. Look, I get it, it’s show business — emphasis on the business. It’s all about the money. But with distribution rights and fees and things the show wasn’t that much of a loss (if any) for the network. They just weren’t making enough of it. Which is sad, because they were making excellent shows and informing their audience about little-known (or studied) aspects of the world. It was about people from different walks of life, with different skills, coming together for the better for everyone.

My hope for the show, despite a fantastic fan push including a¬†petition¬†to help change the fate, is a movie. It’s a longshot, I know. But if there’s anything the show has shown me, it’s that a group of dedicated people can change the world when they work together. Thanks #Timeless fandom and fellow #Clockblockers, let’s try to keep the dream alive.

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Social Cultural Representation

I’ve been thinking a lot about privilege and cultural representation recently. I grew up in Southern California as a straight, white, middle-class, male. Being Southern California there was actually a diverse mix of people with whom I interacted, but I didn’t realize what society taught as a whole that marginalized them.

Which doesn’t mean I wasn’t empathetic. I’ve always considered myself a strong supporter of minorities and the marginalized. I’m only now beginning to realize how little I did to actually contribute to reversing repression and cultural representation when I was young.

In school I learned about the white, male, American history. Even world history had an American bent — Americans were just an offshoot of the British Empire — so was pretty much about how mostly white men influenced the world. You know, people like Aristotle, Plato, Julius Caesar, Marco Polo, and Christopher Columbus. But not any of the bad parts of them, just their great deeds. There was almost no mention of raping, pillaging, slaughtering, or wholesale exploitation. Besides, whatever they might have done was against “uncivilized heathens” of non-white people so it didn’t really count as bad stuff against “people” anyway, was the logic.

The “world,” as I learned about it, was (Western) Europe from circa 500 BCE to 450 CE, and 1400 CE to present. Never mind that pesky time known as the “Dark Ages” in the West where Muslims kept Greek and Roman thought alive and thrived culturally in their own right throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. Forget about anything anyone China, India, or Central or South America might have done during their long histories. Who cares about Confucius, the Buddha, Mayans, or Incans when you get to tell kids about Jesus?

Literature? That was the world of Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Whitman, Dickens, and Hemingway. There might have been mention of Emily Dickinson, but god forbid we ever learned about writers with breasts and vaginas (or people who wrote about breasts and vaginas except as objects of lust). Joan Didion, Betty Friedan, Isabelle Allende? Dirty feminists. We can’t expose school children to those thoughts!

Women? People of Color? America repressed and enslaved them, and for that we’re sorry, but it’s all better now! We had a black President, so obviously America isn’t racist. But we shall never mention other blacks or women. I mean, why would anyone ever want to know about Nobel laureates like¬†Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, Gabriela Mistral, or Rosalyn Yalow? What do Americans care about Desmond Tutu, Haile Selassie, or Shaka Zulu? Women can’t do science. Black people can’t rule countries, pshaw!

Sadly, this is the school mentality I grew up in. Sadly, it’s the regular mentality a lot of people still believe in. And when I was growing up I didn’t get exposed to a lot of other ideas. Not because my parents were horrible people or didn’t want me to be exposed to such things. But because such things weren’t readily available in the pre-internet dystopia of my childhood.

Who were the heroes of the movies and TV shows I watched growing up? White males, inevitably. Women were objects to be rescued, not people with hopes, dreams, and personalities. Sure, Princess Leia shot a hole into the garbage compactor, but first she had to have Luke Skywalker rescue her. Yeah, she killed Jabba, but she was literally on a chain in a metal bikini while doing it. Buttercup, the Princess Bride, was first picked by Humperdink then rescued by the Man In Black. The movies may be modern classics, sure, but complete vehicles for female empowerment they were not. And no way do they pass the Bechdel Test.

Thankfully things are getting better (I hope); and I’m getting better in my understanding of what was wrong in the past. I couldn’t give an exact date of when it happened, but more women and people of color are getting representation in popular culture.¬†There are more show and movies now with diverse casts (not to mention writers, producers, and directors) — hello Wonder Woman, hello Black Panther, hello Jessica Jones and Luke Cage! The sci-fi I grew up watching was decent with its female role models, and at least Trek portrayed people of color, but it’s only gotten better in the last decade.

But it’s not just pop culture that’s awakened. I have, too. I’ve participated in #BlackLivesMatter and #Women’sMarch movements. I’ve been reading people like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Malcolm X, Lindy West, Caitlin Moran, Roxane Gay, Cheryl Strayed, and Nell Scovell¬†(side note, I’m amazed she’s followed me back on Twitter, #omg #swoon), among others. I’ve read Code Girls and Hidden Figures — and watched the movie of the same name. I’ve learned about people, places, and movements that really ought to be taught in school.

Which is part of the reason I love Timeless, a show on the American network NBC. It has been doing a particularly excellent job of representation this year, inviting the viewers to learn more about Wendell Scott, Hedy Lamarr, Robert Johnson, and Alice Paul. It’s one of my favorite shows (#RenewTimeless, #Clockblockers). Week in and week out, in addition to entertaining us, it’s educating us about lesser-taught historical figures. The Smithsonian even writes a weekly recap, discussing how much of each episode was actually true. Spoiler alert, it’s the majority of the historical information, with perhaps a little creative license on occasion to keep the story going. That’s what they get for having an historian as a staff writer (though I’m happy to fill in if needed). All of this exploration has helped awaken me to this white male privilege I’ve taken for granted my entire life.

I’ve gained new viewpoints from watching and reading these things. I’ve tried to incorporate it into my own screenwriting. I’ve actively made my characters women, LGBTQ, and people of color, and contacted people in those communities to see if I’m doing them justice in my representations. I admit, I was sheltered. But I want to come out of that shell to learn more about the world around me. Because we all deserve a voice and representation, not just us white men.

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Comments, Revisions, #amwriting

So I’ve been at this screenwriting (#amwriting) thing for a little over a year now. It’s been a very interesting time, very informative, and, honestly, very difficult. Not because writing a script is hard (it is, or can be) but because I’m not sure how far along the ultimate goal I really am.

There’s a common saying about screenwriting that you need to write at least three scripts to understand the process and learn the basics. These are three scripts which when you write them originally you think are brilliant and will make your career (woo-hoo!). In reality they’re probably three of the worst things you’ll ever read and they should probably never be touched again.

Another adage about making it in Hollywood is that you need at least three high-quality scripts to get representation. One of the most, if not the most, common questions in Hollywood is “What else do you have?” That first script, which got in front a producer or player because of a networking connection or contest placement or something, is the foot in the door. That shows you know how to write. But you’d better be able to back it up with something else. You can’t be just a one-hit wonder. So you need that second script to show that you have more than just one idea. The third script, though, shows that you might just have not only the writing chops to make it in Hollywood, but the drive, flexibility, passion, and speed.

nyfa.edu

So, basically, you need to have written at least six scripts to even think about making a career of it. Which of course takes time, skill, dedication, persistence, and a really good support network.

For however talented you are as a writer your first draft of something will not be good. This is just a plain, cold, hard fact. Like Ringo being the butt of every Beatles joke. Many people I know call the first draft the “vomit draft” because they just “vomit” the words onto the page. Having something to edit is better than nothing. From that vomit draft you can clean up language, change the structure around, add important details, cut (probably lots of cutting) the extraneous crap, and generally make it something presentable. That’s where the support network comes in, and when the real reviews and revisions come in.

Once you have a draft of something you can send it out to a group of people for review who (hopefully) won’t skewer you like Ned Stark’s head in King’s Landing (spoiler alert! It was season one people, watch it already.) They’ll point out confusing scenes, bad dialogue — if everyone sounds the same, it’s bad dialogue — typos (there’s always typos), structural problems, and other things you missed because you know where you’re going and don’t think you need to explain every little thing. So once you have your comments you can really get into the business of screenwriting. A third common saying is “Writing is rewriting.”

Which is currently where I am now. I’ve written some pretty bad scripts (they were good at the time!) and learned the process. Now I’m working on rewriting a project I have a lot of faith in. I like the concept, the characters, and the potential. I just need to make it a little better (or, in some places, a lot better). Once I’ve done that then maybe another quick round of reviews and contests.

Here’s the thing about contests. Some are good. Some aren’t. But they’re all kind of expensive (as an aggregate, not necessarily individually). You need to save money to enter contests, but it can be hard to do. With little to no guarantee of return on your investment — maybe some feedback if you pay (often extra) for it — the contests fees can add up quickly. I want to enter contests, and I will. But I also want to have a few more good scripts in hand before that happens.

I don’t want to be the guy who wins (thinking big here) a contest only to have a producer reach out and say “What else do you have?” and not have anything good. There’s probably not a better way of killing a career before it starts. I mean, I’m working on a bunch of other projects, but they’re all in various states of needing writing¬†or rewrites. I could pitch a few ideas to said producer (and pitching is another skill I’ll need to work on at some point) but it’s not really the same as having the script.

So I’m not really sure where I am in the process at the moment. I’m a year further along than last year. I’ve joined a writing group — networking, yay! — that seems pretty solid. I’m a regular contributor (and by that I mean I ask questions) on a Twitter group chat. I talk to a few other screenwriters fairly regularly about stuff, so that’s good. I don’t have a mentor yet (or perhaps I have lots of mentors with my Twitter and fellow screenwriting people). It would be nice to have that one extra person in my corner. A work colleague recently posted about getting a mentor in her field and it seems a great opportunity for her. I truly hope it leads to great things for her.

What I do know is that screenwriting is in some ways very similar to academic writing. Someone will comment on how to make the work better (hopefully better, not just their idea of better) and you’ve got to take that critique, criticism, comments, and notes and make it work. In screenwriting it could be your writing group, contest readers, the production company, or (if you’re lucky enough) a network. In academia it could be friends, peer reviewers, or your advisor. That, at least, isn’t dissimilar. Everyone has an opinion. Some matter more than others. The hard part is figuring out which is which.

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Morality TV

One of the things I’ve always loved about science fiction is its ability to discuss social and moral issues without seeming heavy-handed about it. Okay, there were some wildly obvious episodes of TOS that ignored this rule (“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” springs to mind), but, generally speaking, sci-fi lends itself to abstract storytelling that can still have moral concepts embedded inside.

It’s easy to talk about racism, for example, when there are literally difference species in play. Battlestar Galactica, the modern remake, managed to bring ideas of terrorism quite well, as well as stories about gender, sexuality and religion. The classic movie Blade Runner (and the book it was based on) dealt with humanity and what it means to be human.

But more and more in regular TV — both on networks, cable and streaming services — these various moral ideas have been popping up. The show Person of Interest dealt largely with a surveillance state, a la “Big Brother”, privacy and larger questions of ends justifying the means. Another CBS show, Elementary, actually has similar themes. I’m sure someone could (and has) discussed the moral implications of a show like The Handmaid’s Tale, though since I don’t have Hulu I haven’t watched it; nor have I read the book, though I probably should.

In previous posts (like this or this) I’ve discussed a lot of these issues in terms of science fiction, both TV shows and movies. The recent Captain America MCU films have done an excellent job of bringing in questions of right, wrong, justice, identity, power and all sorts of other things to the forefront.

With all the various outlets addressing moral and social concerns, I’m happy to see Netflix once again leading the way. Whether from the dark, seedy underbelly of politics in House of Cards talking about “a greater good”, or the women of Litchfield prison in Orange Is the New Black dealing with things like prison commodification and #BlackLivesMatter, or even the more personal family drama and murder in Bloodline, quite a few modern TV shows portray moral dilemmas in an entertaining, realistic light.

I’m of the opinion that discussing things is the best way to bring them to light and, perhaps, effect change. The idea that by ignoring something it will go away is naive and dangerous. Which is why I think everyone should watch 13 Reasons Why.

Based on the Jay Asher YA novel of the same name the show delves into the often uncomfortable topics of depression, bullying, rape and suicide. Whether you like the show or not, and there are plenty of people who don’t, it doesn’t shy away from showing the impact these issues have upon people.

What I found most striking about the show is that it actually SHOWS these things, in all their harsh reality. Though a program like Law & Order: SVU has been going strong for almost 20 years, and has led to people better understanding sexual abuse and assault, it very rarely actually focuses the camera on those acts. But 13 Reasons Why made it a point to do so. They are not comfortable topics to discuss, and even less so to watch.

I’ve read that schools are warning parents not to let their kids watch the show, and that Netflix has added even more parental advisory warnings (which were already pretty prevalent) because it somehow glorifies suicide, making it seem like a viable option for people suffering from depression or as victims of abuse. But I would argue the show does the exact opposite. It leaves everyone, from schoolmates to teachers to parents, baffled by Hannah Baker’s suicide, leaving them to deal with the aftermath. As the show rightfully points out, you don’t and can’t know what’s going on in someone else’s head. They may seem “perfectly normal”, even “happy” on the outside, yet still be struggling with a myriad of issues. Only after the deaths of Robin Williams and Chris Cornell, for example, has the public come to understand their personal demons (to some extent).

But by opening up a public forum for these things, the show has, hopefully, also made the public more aware of the resources for dealing with them. Things like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), or the Trevor Project, or even just talking to friends or family. There are resources available, and it’s okay to ask for help.

These types of strong, ambitious shows are what I’d like to write about in my screenwriting. Life isn’t as cut-and-dried as many would like us to think, or that we want it to be. So I’ll try explaining, to the best of my ability, how to deal with things that may challenge us.

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The Craft of Learning An Art

fade-inI’ve been working on writing my first television pilot script recently. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been busy doing all sorts of writing, but the pilot is the thing I’ve been focusing on a lot. I also worked on a spec script of an existing show (basically writing an episode of a show that could happen, but hasn’t been written). I’m not expecting either script to get produced any time soon (if at all), so I don’t have my hopes up in that respect. But I’m using both as learning experiences to hone my screenwriting skills.

In that regard I’ve been reading tons of books on screenwriting, joined writing groups, followed a lot of writers/producers/agencies on Twitter and have been reading a bunch of scripts. Thankfully there are a lot of websites that offer up scripts to download, so I can read and compare how shows and movies were imagined/written to what was actually produced.

bfa-screenwriting

 

It’s been an interesting experience, to say the least. For the most part I’ve found that the general theme, structure and much of the dialogue from the script stayed the same. Not every scene that was written turned out the same way in the final production, and there were numerous scenes that weren’t in the script that made it into the show/movie.

I read and watched the Gilmore Girls pilot (because, you know, a good show). There was one minor character who worked at the Inn who never made it on screen, and a whole scene between Rory and Dean that hadn’t been written. I read two different drafts of the Farscape pilot — the initial draft and the shooting script. There was a lot less action/description in the shooting script but it was messier because pages were inserted/rewritten. For HBO’s The Wire dialogue was dropped (more often than not), scenes were in a different order than they appeared on screen and characters were renamed, changed and added or deleted. It’s amazing how similar yet so different things are from initial concept to production.

I’ve learned that not everything has to be exactly perfect/finished to catch a developer’s eye. Now, I am reading things from people who have been in the business for a while and who were relatively well-known in the industry before these shows — Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino had done Roseanne and other shows before Gilmore Girls, and David Simon had created Homicide: Life on the Street before The Wire. So while that might be okay for established Hollywood players I think I will take the time to perfect my own script. That will mean lots of editing, rewriting, revisions and feedback. All of which I’ve both given and received before in one form or another, so I’m okay with that.

I’ve recently seen the fantastic Hidden Figures movie. I’ve got the script and have started reading that. But I really want to read the book to do even more comparisons. How was it adapted? What was left in? What changed? There’s always going to be some sort of creative license to make scenes more dramatically interesting in stories based on books — not to mention ones based on true events. Just look at what changed with the Harry Potter films, for example, or in any “based on a true story” movie.¬†I don’t necessarily want to write movies or feature films, but having the knowledge and seeing how it can be done well could serve me in the future.

It’s all a very interesting learning experience. One that I’ve been trying to incorporate into my own script and writing process. I still have a lot of work to do, and at times it’s challenging, but it’s also fun. Screenwriting is an art form, as is any form of writing. I’m learning the craft. I just hope I can do something with it. Thankfully there are a lot of resources available to help in the process. I’m just happy Netflix doesn’t judge me for watching the same episode of something over and over again while I try to glean all I can out of a scene or episode. I’m just going to assume they don’t judge me, at least… Well, if they do I’ll just use the old adage “practice makes perfect.” All I’m doing is practicing. A lot.

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Time, Energy and the Will to Write

Time. Time and energy. They are intrinsically linked, as Einstein knew so well (see E=mc² and the whole of relativity theory).

I’ve not had a lot of time to write this blog recently. Or, rather, I’ve had the same amount of time as always, just directed to other things that are taking my energy.

I’ve been doing a lot of other writing. I’m happy to pursue those other tasks — ranging from journalism to roleplaying to screenplays; and of course all the revisions and editing that those entail. But it doesn’t leave a lot of time or energy left for writing this blog. While I have lots of things I’d like to write about I just don’t have time.

My plan is to write at least once a month in the future. There are lots of pop culture events to discuss, lots about writing and even some politics (maybe). Anyway, that’s for the future. For now I have to go write.

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A Year In Review… And A Turn to the Future

Well, 2016 has sucked. From way, way, way too many celebrity deaths (or at least ones I actually liked) to “democracy” gone awry at pretty much every turn to a host of other issues that have made this the “Worst. Year. Ever.” It’s suck so much that I can’t even do my annual Top 10 list.

worst-year-everThis would normally be the portion of the year when I do my “Top 10” albums as I had in years past. But, honestly, I’ve barely listened to new music this year. I’m not even sure I could name 10 albums that came out that I’ve heard, let alone rank them in any sort of sensible order. I do know I quite enjoyed Brian Fallon’s Painkillers, and Wilco’s Schmilco, pretty much because I love Wilco.

I considered doing a “Top 10 in Pop Culture” ranking my favorite music, movies and television shows this year but thought better of it. Much like with the music, I’m not sure I’ve seen enough new movies or TV shows to warrant calling out “the best.” All right, season 6 of Game of Thrones was pretty awesome. But I expect to like the movies I see in the theater, which is why I don’t go to a whole lot. And I don’t particularly care for commercials in my TV, so I tend to watch most stuff on Netflix or an on-demand provider with few, if any, commercials. So how do I rank things? How do you rate Captain America: Civil War, a 2-hour action extravaganza, to the latest season of Orange Is the New Black with its almost 13 hours of content? They’re both excellent in their own ways.

I thought, too, about ranking celebrity deaths in order of importance to me. But then I realized that I didn’t want to get depressed by seeing many of my musical and acting heroes all gone. Besides, there’s already lists for that. And how does one truly compare Carrie Fisher to David Bowie or Muhammad Ali? They were all so impactful in their various fields that it would be a disservice to them to them to say one was somehow “better” than another.

2016

So, no lists in review for me this year. Instead, I’ll write about what I’d like to see in 2017.

  • Ideally both the UK and US will come to their senses politically and realize Brexit and Trump were horrible choices for the majority of people and somehow rectify those mistakes.
  • Humanity grows up enough where we all start coming together to see our similarities rather than constantly being divided by our differences. This would mean no more wars, homicides or scare-mongering.
  • The realization that climate change is real, impacts the world, and plans not only to curb the situation but actually make it better. If children are the legacy we leave the world, we’re not leaving them with much of a world and a horrible legacy.
  • An end to the commodification of everything. There’s no fundamental reason why private companies should profit from things like health care or education when they are essential to a healthy, happy life.
  • And, since I’m going for huge pipe dreams, why not add I’d like to see my cat trained not to wake me up at the ungodly hours of the morning begging for food as he’s done every morning since I got him. He actually seems to have gotten worse recently. And by that I mean it’s progressively earlier and earlier while he continues to get fatter and fatter.

Hey, if I’m going to look for something positive and hopeful for the next 365 days I might as well make them benefit myself and everyone else too. Go big or go home, as they say (and since I’m at home I might as well go big)!

Anyway, here’s to hoping that 2017 doesn’t suck. Cheers, slainte, salud, prost, etc. Happy New Year, see you on the other side!

 

 

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The Art of Morality

Recently I’ve been re-watching my least favorite Star Trek show, Voyager. In part because it’s the last of the series’ that I haven’t watched again and in part I’m a glutton for punishment.

voyagership

I’ve realized what it is about the show that I dislike so much. It doesn’t have a moral center. Most good sci-fi, and especially all the other Treks, have taken the opportunity to comment on ideas of morality, society and contemporary issues. Not that every episode was a comment, per se, but that there was a sense of gravitas and moral center of the show in the characters.

In The Original Series (TOS) that could, variously, be Kirk, Spock and/or McCoy. Due to the interactions of ¬†‘The Big Three’ or ‘Triumvirate’ the show could comment about such diverse topics as the Vietnam War, racism, sexism, drug use and loads of other things. Social commentary was what made Star Trek stand out among its peers — how much veiled discussion of Vietnam does Lost In Space take on?

For The Next Generation (TNG) the moral core was Picard, whose almost strict adherence to Starfleet’s Prime Directive could be considered a commentary on non-interference and/or American culture. But in some episodes Worf — the bristly Klingon warrior — and even Data — the machine wanting to become a man, a modern-day Pinocchio — took the reigns. Indeed, one of the best episodes of the first three seasons, ‘The Measure of A Man’, S2.E9, centered on Data, his identity and humanity’s role in slavery. Plenty of other episodes throughout its run had morality questions as a central issue. I remember that’s what first drew me into the show and part of the reason I studied Philosophy as an undergrad.

Though often considered the darkest, most un-Roddenberry like show, Deep Space 9 (DS9) dealt with the struggles between science and religion, religious strife, war,¬†freedom fighters or terrorists and xenophobia. More than 20 years after it first aired the show could still reflect today’s problems. Again, the captain, Sisko, was often the focal point of moral quandaries, but the supporting cast, especially Dax, Kira and O’Brian, had their own excellent episodes. I would even argue that it was because of its darker aspects that allowed DS9 to have a lasting impact. If TOS and TNG were the best of what humanity could be in overcoming its baser instincts, DS9 was more reflective of what humanity actually is.

There wasn’t a lot of social commentary in either of the first two seasons of Enterprise, but seasons three and four of the show really hit their stride regarding commentary. Indeed, the whole third season plot arc of an attack on Earth/humanity demanding a swift response against the aggressors really reflected post-9/11 American culture and paranoia.

Yet Voyager has not even tried to reflect society. It aired from 1995 to 2001 so there were plenty of issues it could have tackled. In that time there were domestic and international instances of violence and terrorism — the Atlanta Olympic bombing, Columbine, the Northern Ireland troubles and all that happened in the area once known as Yugoslavia. There were scandals in the highest halls of power — Clinton was impeached, after all — that could have led to at least one story line. And there were huge advances in technology, like the widespread use of the internet, widespread use of cell phones, Mars landings and the tech bubble. The timeframe was ripe for analysis.

Why could DS9, which aired from 1993 to 1999, so almost completely contemporaneously, have much more social commentary? Was it the writers and producers for Voyager who became hesitant? It certainly wasn’t the acting chops of lead Kate Mulgrew, played Captain Janeway and who later went on to more great acclaim as Red in Orange Is the New Black. The character she plays in Voyager, however, just doesn’t have the same gravitas or moral authority as any other Trek captain. Her character just doesn’t have any deep set, grand philosophies by which she abides. What she defends in one episode — such as the Prime Directive — is completely disregarded in the next. When given multiple opportunities to get her crew home — ostensibly her main role as captain on the show — she ignores them. Should could have asked Q on multiple occasions, but chose to ‘go the hard way’. What kind of moral center does she have?

The rest of the Voyager crew seems content to go along with her incompetence by never having a mutiny or questioning her orders. The First Officer, Chakotay, spent his adult life as a member of the rebellious Maquis, yet is her biggest supporter. Former convict Tom Paris never wanted to strike out on his own, instead trusting the questionable orders Janeway gives.

I understand the whole dynamic of the show would have changed if they would have returned before the final episode, so some of it was ‘dramatic license’. But she was just a horrible captain. There were good (by Voyager terms) episodes that dealt with time travel, alternate reality or false identity — true sci-fi staples. There were lots of action sequences, too. The show basically has the same problem as the latest movie — a good action series with hints of sci-fi but without the cornerstones of Star Trek.

Bryan Fuller, who helped develop the new show Discovery but who apparently won’t be involved any longer, got his first major start writing for Voyager. Hopefully he learned from the mistakes of the show and imbued his new show and showrunners with the need to not only tell compelling stories, but to have them mean something.

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The Circle of… A Day In the… Final Four Words

The final four words of Netflix’s revival of the beloved TV show Gilmore Girls, which they subtitled¬†A Year In the Life, are its creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s culmination of the pop-cultural phenomenon.

Some fans are angry at them, almost demanding a second season in the reboot. As some fans noted, however, the words make perfect sense from the standpoint of the show. I lean more toward the latter interpretation.

Note, there are spoilers (and analysis) below.

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Recap

I really enjoyed the show when it originally aired. It was funny, quirky, endearing and heartwarming. I also appreciated all the pop culture references. I’d forgotten how much I missed the quick-fire banter and razor-witted characters. The first scene of the reboot — split into 4 parts, each named after the season of the year in which it takes place — recognised that as well. Rory (Alexis Bledel) and Lorelai (Lauren Graham) sit in the gazebo in their beloved Stars Hollow, drinking coffee (always!) and talking about just that. The show itself may have ended in 2007 but the actors slipped so easily back into their characters that there was no awkwardness. It just felt like eight years had passed in their lives, same as ours. The fact that the original creators, writers producers and show-runners Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband David Palladino, were back for the revival, after leaving before the disappointing season 7, made the show feel like slipping on a familiar pair of jeans or well-worn sneakers.

I laughed at the jokes and references, I teared up at the appropriate times and overall I loved it. The second and third episodes, ‘Spring’ and ‘Summer’, dragged a little too much — especially the extended musical sequence — but I also felt that ‘Summer’ was the emotional heart of the revival. Yes, it was great to have the dedication to Edward Hermann — who had played Rory’s grandfather Richard in the original run and who died of cancer in 2014 — in ‘Winter’, and to see Luke (Scott Patterson) and Lorelai finally get married in ‘Fall’. It was nice to have Emily (Kelly Bishop) finally stop being such a stick-in-the-mud, overcome the loss of her husband of 50 years (though I did feel this storyline was a bit out of character, actually) and reconcile with her daughter (for good?). Those were all necessary and satisfying. But the real emotional conflict, and sentiment, came to a head in ‘Summer’.

Though Rory claimed she had plenty of ‘irons in the fire’ during ‘Winter’ and ‘Spring’, and in fact worked toward writing a deeper biography on someone whom she had profiled in a well-received New Yorker piece, by ‘Summer’ this has all fallen through. She’s finally moved back to Stars Hollow, even if she thinks she’s not ‘back’ for good, and is encouraged to join the Thirtysomething Gang, a group of similar-aged people who graduated, went to work and yet have moved back to live with their parents after getting chewed up by real life. Despite her best intentions and hard work, her journalism career is effectively dead. She’s forced to try writing a spec piece for GQ about lines — queues — in New York. When that doesn’t work she takes up the editorial pen of the Stars Hollow Gazette, an unpaid position. She’s broke, doesn’t have a car, a valid license, a paying job or, apparently, underwear. She also, finally, decides to end her affair with Logan, even despite the presence of Lorelai, meanwhile, will be saying goodbye to her longtime friend, concierge Michel, as he feels the need to move to a bigger, more modern inn. Lorelai is also on the committee overseeing Stars Hollow: The Musical, a musical retelling of the history of the town. While at a dress rehearsal with the others on the committee, the others are entranced despite (because of?) the utter banality of the songs, while Lorelai furiously scribbles critiques.

The two women are understandably distraught and petrified that so much around them is changing yet they seem stuck in neutral. It struck a chord with me. Friends from school and university have good jobs, are following their passions (and succeeding) and settling down with beloved children. Life is progressing as they dreamed (or at least society tells us we should dream). Yet for me, and Rory, this isn’t what has happened. Despite our best intentions, qualifications and work we haven’t been able to do what we want.

It is this episode that sets up the finale, including the final four words.

For the record, those are:

Rory: Mom

Lorelei: Yeah?

Rory: I’m pregnant.

Fade to black. End of show. Cue Carole King’s theme song (finally!).

Analysis

There have been numerous articles about the need to ‘talk about‘ these words, their ‘complications‘, why they might ‘make you angry‘ or if you ‘loved them‘.

They all point out how Logan is almost certainly the father, how he’s a proxy version of¬†Christopher (Rory’s father, Lorelai’s ex), how Jess is her Luke (perhaps) and how the show has come full-circle. One even pointed out how different the context is had these been the final words of the original broadcast. gilmorelovemoreBack at the end of season 7 Rory was a recent Yale grad with dreams of being an international journalist and a job writing about the Obama campaign. In the revival she’s 32 (the same age as Lorelai at the start of the show), down on her luck and feeling lost. She’s no longer the precocious youth, but a seasoned woman. A very privileged, well-read woman who sometimes leads a fairy-tale Hollywood life, but a seasoned woman nonetheless.

Yet for as much sense and insight as the articles have, none talk about one of the other major issues. Everyone — outside of Jess, perhaps — has or will have a child. Children are the only measure of success. Michel and his partner Frederick are even adopting, and Michel hates children! What does it say about Rory’s feminism, ambition, writing skills or intelligence to be boiled down to her children? Yes, she is most definitely her mother’s child. But children don’t need to be the defining characteristic of someone’s life. There are plenty of people who can’t have or don’t want children who live full, productive and filling lives. Why aren’t they represented in the show? Why are children so important to someone’s self-worth?

The one good thing that could be said about the abysmal season 7 was that Rory rejected Logan’s proposal, went to follow her dream (and succeed!) and was a strong, independent, childless woman. While the show probably does end with the right words indicating the circle of life, or coming full circle or whatever clich√© you want to use, it is still a sad comment¬†by society.

Despite that critique, however, I felt the show ended well and doesn’t need a second revival. The stories have been told already in the original series. Stars Hollow supported Lorelai and helped her raise her child, that same cast of cooky characters will support Rory when she does the same.

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Strange Times, Mister Doctor

Having finally gotten around to seeing the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I have some thoughts on Doctor Strange.

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The Good

The basic requirement of any medium of entertainment is entertainment. If you get bored during a movie or song it’s failing to entertain you. So far, I’ve yet to be bored during any of the Marvel films, and Doctor Strange is no different. It has a nice blend of action, humour and mind-boggling special effects to keep me and other viewers watching. Those are definitely some of the best things about the film, actually.

While not as funny as Guardians of the Galaxy there are definitely still some comic elements to the movie. Benedict Cumberbatch may be known for his Shakespearean oratory and stoic portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, he still has wit and charm when necessary.

The special effects are stunning, and, were they actually real things, would have massive implications for the world and universe at large. By that I mean that the movie shows a more mystical, magical element than has previously been available in the MCU, so opens the MCU to new wonders. The mysticism and multiple universes had been hinted at in some of the other films, particularly the Thor series, and even a bit in Ant-Man, but this new film takes it to a whole different level. Having Doctor Stephen Strange start as a ‘man of science’ before transforming into a ‘man of magic’ means that other characters could also have change their points of view. Hank Pym has some weird ideas already that show he might come around, for example. Thus, the movie does and excellent job of setting itself up for a sequel and still fitting within the wider aspect of the MCU.

The special effects were very reminiscent of The Matrix and Inception. In some ways I actually felt like I was watching those movies during Doctor Strange because of the visual twists and turns. No other Marvel film has used that style of filming before, but it worked well. It really made it feel like reality was distorted and that we all, in many ways, live in our perception of the world.

The Bad

Despite the fact that I did thoroughly enjoy the film, there are still some contentious issues in it. It felt like a standard origin story film that has become so familiar. Arrogant, successful man (almost always a man, especially in the MCU) has something bad happen to him that changes his point of view, he has to learn to use some new ability to defend both himself and others from the big bad. That fits the Tony Stark/Ironman story to a T, describes Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk, Thor and, other than ‘arrogant’, Steve Rogers/Captain America. Having a portion of the movie be the origin story would have been okay, but the entirety of it felt reused and rehashed here.

Along that same note, the script itself seemed almost a ‘write by numbers’ sort of movie. I’ve been reading quite a bit about screenwriting recently (in the hopes that I can finish and sell my own screenplay), and one of the resources I’ve been using noted that all successful screenplays have common elements. The basic three act story has a set-up, obstacles and resolution. Within that three-act story can be anywhere from five to eight (depending on the source) ‘plot-points’, the two big ones being ‘the big event’, which moves from Act 1 (set up) to Act 2 (obstacles), and the ‘the crisis’, moving from Act 2 to Act 3 (resolution). There’s also often a catalyst that sets up the big event, some mid-point or ‘point of no return’, a climax and a resolution. As I was watching the film I kept thinking to myself, ‘there’s the catalyst’, ‘there’s the point of no return’, ‘there’s the big event’. The movie was hitting all the boxes a successful screenplay hits but didn’t seem to be adding much creativity in the way it went about it. It felt very much ‘by the book’ for a super hero film.¬†What made the first Iron Man and Captain America films were their bit of social commentary and slight twist on the typical story structure. Doctor Strange didn’t have that; or at least not as well-done as the others.

My biggest issue with the film was the Hollywood whitewashing. It’s a problem that dates back almost to the invention of film, and continues to show a legacy of racism. Doctoral theses could be (and perhaps have been)¬†written about the matter, so I won’t get too much into it from an academic perspective. But even having the fantastic Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong in supporting roles the rest of the main cast was white. Strange, white; his teacher, ‘The Ancient One’, played by Tilda Swinton, white; Strange’s love interest, Dr Christine Palmer, played by Rachel McAdams, white; his enemy, Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius, white. Even though much of the movie was set in Asia Wong was the only prominent Asian character. Even though Strange lived in New York, a city that has a very diverse population, he worked with and dated white people. Why couldn’t Christine be Puerto Rican, or Dominican? Why couldn’t the Ancient One be Asian? Marvel’s tenuous explanation was that they didn’t want to be stereotypical showing a wizened old Asian person teaching a white person martial arts and magic, but that hold little water. Asia is not just China, Tibet or Japan — the stereotypical connoisseur’s of martial arts. The Ancient One¬†could have been Vietnamese, Turkish¬†or Indian (or some other Asian nationality) and not been the ‘stereotypical’ example.

Thscarlett-johansson-ghost-shell-asian-cgi__opte recent casting of Scarlett Johansson as the lead in the live-action adaptation of the manga/anime series Ghost In the Shell merely perpetuates the problem. Are there really no capable Asian actors or actresses in the world? I find that extremely hard to believe. Yet, by continuing to whitewash the movies Hollywood is failing to further appeal to a huge percentage of the population. The world is a diverse place, filled with all sorts of people. Wouldn’t it be in Hollywood’s best interest to accept that fact and make their product more reflective?

Despite these problems Doctor Strange was an enjoyable film. It widens the whole scope of the MCU and lays the foundation for many, many more types of films. I look forward to seeing how Strange will fit into the Infinity War arc that’s building for 2018/2019 (and beyond?). In the meantime I’ll have to make do with Thor: Ragnarok,¬†Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Black Panther before then. Perhaps they will be less formulaic and whitewashed. To be fair, it’s hard to be whitewashed with Idris Elba, Chadwick Boseman and Zoe Saldana in leading roles.

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