Posts Tagged ‘Battlestar Galactica

27
Aug
09

In praise of: Mad Men (and Spectacular Spider-Man)

Now that The Wire and Battlestar Galactica have ended, Mad Men is the best television drama currently in production. This occurred to me as I was watching it last night (incidentally, there was a reason I was up watching telly ’til three in the morning, but I’d rather not explain for fear it would put me in a bad mood again). The episode I watched was titled “Shoot”, where a rival advertising firm tries to lure Don to the company, using a modelling job for his wife to bait him. I suddenly realised that there’s nothing else around right now that touches this level of quality.

First of all there’s the acting. It’s more than excellent. The characters are so well realised that every principle actor seems to be in the role they were born to play. With the exception of The Wire, this is probably the best ensemble television cast in recent memory (it easily trumps The Sopranos in this regard).

What really works here, however, is the writing. When I first encountered Mad Men I was unimpressed. The unashamed sexism and social exclusion of its setting seemed very gimmicky. What I hadn’t figured out was that the works are left under the surface. The writers rarely point out the important elements of the story they’re telling. Rather they trust the audience with the intelligence to recognise it for ourselves. This is not only clever in it own sense, but highly appropriate for a show about an advertising firm in the early 60s, where images hide things that are more important.

I wanted to embed a video here, but it seems AMC have been all over Youtube, and so the clips can’t be embedded. This one seems to best describe what I’m talking about.

Anyway, apart from Mad Med the only other show that gets me excited these days is The Spectacular Spider-Man. I know it’s a kids’ program, but there’s no reason kids’ programs can’t be great. The scripts are smart and witty and avoid talking down to their audience, and the animation is beautifully fluid (and also I’m a great big geek, so really go for this stuff). It’s possibly the best action cartoon since that Batman series in the 90s. Here’s an episode I quite like.



20
Jan
09

Battlestar Galactica and the Gilded Age of American Television

Tonight Sky One begins broadcasting the second half of the final season of Battlestar Galactica. I’m a huge fan of this programme and I’ve been looking forward to this for months. There are many reasons why I love it, but chief among them I think is that it’s the one sci-fi show that stands up with the so called Gilded Age of American Television.

Television – particularly American television – was at one time considered the lowliest entertainment medium. Critics like Mark Kermode could freely admit they ignored the medium altogether. Then The Sopranos came along and suddenly TV realised it was allowed to be brilliant. It was followed by such sublime wonders as The West Wing, The Wire and Six Feet Under, the latter being a show I truly loved despite my desire to hate anything Alan Ball is involved with (American Beauty was unwatchable to me). These shows easily matched and in some instances surpassed the flair and style of their counterparts in film, while their serial nature allowed a level of characterisation previously reserved for literature. This was the culture to which Battlestar Galactica attached itself, and unfortunately no other sci-fi programme has seen fit to follow suit.

Instead sci-fi television has become preoccupied with hi-concept nonsense involving one central plot arc that envelope the entire series. This format was pioneered by 24, becoming standard with the success of the unnecessarily perplexing Lost and the downright awful Heroes (sorry, Heroes fans, but the whole things is basically a Marvel comic without costumes). The attraction of these shows is that they generate a lot of water-cooler/internet-forum chatter, making them much easier to market. Of course BSG too has all these elements, what with its “who’s human and who’s Cylon” baitings and the almost eternal mystery of what condition will Earth be in when and if it’s found (as it turns out, bloody awful). The difference is that BGS didn’t do this at the expense of real, self-contained drama. Each episode is fully fleshed out and stands up on it own (except for one or two duds), rarely feeling like it’s going through the motions.

Of course when discussing BGS one must look at its frolicking with allegory. With the military-industrial humans and the evil religion-bent cylons, the show is obviously trying to say something about the war on terror. However, much like The West Wing, Battlestar Galactica is fully committed to avoiding easy solutions. These allagorical roles are often muddied and occasionally even completely reversed. For instance, when Admiral Cain turn up she served to highlight the worst excesses of Neocon dogma. And the episodes set on New Caprica, where the put-upon humans resorted to using suicide bombers against their occupying cylon forces, were such a naked critique of the Iraq war that they might as well have called it New Fallujah

The visual effects also deserve a mention. The centurion cylons may look a little plastic, but the battle scenes are simply gorgeous and are equal to the best that Hollywood can deliver. For example, this (ok, the shitty Youtube video doesn’t do it justice, but you get the idea). What I love most about this particular episode is the almost incidental way the battle takes place. Despite the beauty of the visuals, it’s merely a side-story. The real tension of this episode is the deathly battle of wits between the two captains. It sums up why I love Battlestar Galactica.

So that’s it. If you’ve nothing else to do I suggest you watch this tonight. You could do a lot worse (like Heroes).