Friday, 30 January 2015

Catching up

I know the blog's been a bit quiet lately - life stuff. It may be a while before I'm able to catch up on much, but I'm still active at Den of Geek and Doux Reviews.

I'm part of teams reviewing Star Trek: The Next Generation and The X-Files at Doux Reviews. I had no idea how many TNG episodes I hadn't seen... I'm loving re-visiting The X-Files, except for the conspiracy arcs, which I always pretty much ignored from about season 3 onwards - that makes them quite difficult to review for others, as I have really no idea what's going on in most of them! Of course, The X-Files has been in the news lately, as it may be revived in a shorter form. I'm not entirely convinced that's a good idea, but on the other hand, I liked the generally disliked second movie, and the series finale was an utter mess, so maybe a short series could give the whole thing a stronger sense of closure and round it off nicely.

My current series of articles for Den of Geek consists of guides to getting into long-running shows without having to watch every single episode, especially when everyone tells you season one isn't so good but it gets better. How on earth is that meant to make me want to watch season one?! (Though I have to say, in the end, I enjoyed Supernatural season one very much, and season one of The X-Files is my favourite by far). Anyway, The X-Files will be up next, as soon as I've had time to write it (they take ages, as I have to keep checking which episode was which!) so if you've never seen the show but want to give it a go before any new version comes out, keep an eye out for that!

Also in the news in the last couple of weeks, Atlantis has been cancelled. The last seven episodes of season two will air in the spring, and then that's your lot. Honestly, I feel terrible about this because a lot of people have lost their jobs, but I'm sort of relieved. Part of the reason I haven't managed to review season two yet is that I simply haven't had time - I haven't finished season two of Plebs yet either, and I still hugely enjoy that. But part of the reason was also that it was such a slog to watch and talk about it.

To be fair, that isn't necessarily entirely down to the quality of the show. I watched a couple of episodes from the first part of season two on TV without writing them up and they passed the time reasonably well. I was very happy to see Medea appear, and although I came in halfway through the story and wasn't sure what was going on, it looked like they were doing something really interesting with Orpheus and Eurydice. Sometimes, something that's great fun to watch and is a good show is just very difficult to write about critically, as I discovered when I reviewed The Big Bang Theory for Den of Geek last year. I mean, what can you say each week - nothing much happened, but it made me laugh, because it's a sitcom and that's what they do?! It certainly exercised my creativity, that's for sure. So part of Atlantis' problem from my point of view may have been that it's fun, Saturday-night telly, it's not meant to be earth-shattering, so it isn't.

But I think there are some interesting issues surrounding what Atlantis did with the mythology as well. I'm a big fan of playing around with myth, of doing different things with it and coming up with new versions, as I'm sure you know. I’ve defended Troy many times, and I liked last summer’s Hercules (the one with The Rock) very much. I loved Atlantis’ interpretation of Hercules and as I said, it looked like they were doing something interesting with Orpheus.

But perhaps Atlantis got a bit too creative. If you’re going to write something based on or inspired by pre-existing stories, there should probably be enough of the pre-existing story that’s recognizable, otherwise what’s the point? You might as well write a fresh story with fresh characters and do whatever you want with it. Atlantis’ Pasiphae bears pretty much no resemblance to the mythical Pasiphae, it took ages for Medea to show up and Ariadne was still being presented as Jason’s main love interest, Medusa was with Hercules, Pythagoras – a real person – was there for some reason… For people who don’t know the stories, it probably doesn’t matter but it means even the most basic level of recognition is lost, and for people who know the stories, keeping up with that level of messing around with them becomes confusing after a while.

There were other issues too. Jason was given a backstory that should have informed his every move, thought and reaction – that he had grown up in the modern era (and was some kind of marine archaeologist or something, if I remember rightly) but that has hardly been mentioned since. He never feels like a modern man at all. All of the characters are rather broadly drawn, and the women got short shrift in season one, all being either saints or sinners, with only Medea in season two offering a slightly more complex character.

And on a personal level, although I absolutely love Robin Hood legends, Arthurian legends and Greek myth, I haven’t really been able to get in to any of the BBC’s dramas on the subjects. I watched a bit of Merlin, mainly for Colin Morgan, but neither Atlantis nor Robin Hood were able to boast a lead actor with as much talent or charisma as him. I can see what they’re trying to do and how they’re trying to recreate the American shows that I love, balancing humour and drama in 45 minute episodes, but somehow they never quite manage it. Perhaps they need to stop trying and be something more British instead. Just look at French zombie drama The Returned – it couldn’t be more French, and it’s brilliant.

It would also help if they decided whether they were a family show or a drama aimed primarily at adults, and stopped equating ‘family’ with ‘children’. Star Trek (various incarnations) is a family show, which means it doesn’t include graphic sexual or violent content (apart from that one time that dude’s head blew up, and some stuff that happens on Risa) but it takes its drama seriously and includes stories on all manner of topics. Atlantis, of course, suffered particularly badly in this respect, as the first series was written for an earlier time slot than it was given, and then the second tried self-consciously to be ‘darker’. I think the lesson here is, don’t write for a timeslot or an audience beyond minor consideration of how graphic you’re going to be. Write great stories for interesting characters and take care of the rest later. You can always edit out that steamy sex romp if you unexpectedly get given an earlier time slot. And don’t write for children as if they were a sub-set with different tastes than adults. Children enjoy great stories and great characters in just the same way as adults do.

I’d better stop before this gets any more ranty, and before I start explaining why I prefer Star Trek to Doctor Who and end up kicking off a flame war! Anyone have any thoughts on Atlantis? Are you sorry to see it go? I’ll miss its gorgeous set design, I think…

P.S. When drafting this post, I completely forgot the most important bit of news - my book came out in paperback yesterday! Amazon don't quite seem to have caught up to this yet but you can buy it from Bloomsbury's website. There's also a Kindle edition, and both are under £20, which is pretty great for an academic book!
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