Sunday, October 31, 2010

Postcard From Thedas

Playing "Dragon Age: Origins".

Much to say.

Can't stop long enough to write.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

And apropos of "Mad Men"...

Sometimes I could swear that CollegeHumor is reading my mind...

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Diana's Adventures in TV Land: Mad Men

This one's been on the to-do list for a while now: the show everyone's talking about, the show kazekage has been urging me to watch for months - and that counts for a lot, given how much I enjoyed the last series he recommended (Gargoyles).

So, just to start things off properly: sorry, love. Couldn't make it past six episodes.

I give the creators of "Mad Men" due praise for their recreation of 1960's New York: every detail radiates authenticity, even though I'm sure some liberties have been taken in terms of historical accuracy. And, as predicted, I've developed a major crush on Jon Hamm.

(Take note, CW bleach-babies - this is what a real man looks like!)

But frankly, my problem with this series has less to do with style and more to do with substance.

I'll preface the following review by admitting that my standards of evaluation aren't what they were a year ago; back then, if a somewhat-flawed series caught my interest, I'd stick around for at least a full season to see if things got better. I'm still watching (and enjoying) "The Vampire Diaries" because it's improved significantly since its initial mediocrity.

Unfortunately, I find myself sitting on a rather intimidating pile of books, movies and games at the moment, all of which I'd like to check out (and possibly review), which means I have considerably less patience for stories that don't hook me after a reasonable amount of time.

So I gave "Mad Men" six episodes. Is that fair? I'd like to think so - six hours is more than enough to present one of the two things I need in order to stay invested in a narrative: interesting characters or an entertaining story. (Years of substandard television have taught me never to expect both at the same time, but to be highly appreciative if they do show up hand-in-hand.)

Part of the problem may be hype backlash - more than any series I'm currently aware of, "Mad Men" has gained near-unanimous praise from critics and viewers alike. And yet, the one word that springs to mind when I try to describe this series is "joyless": taking into account that the whole point seems to be ridding its viewers of any nostalgic idealization of the period, there just isn't any fun to be had here.

It's the story of an ad agency, at a time when advertising was on the cusp of transforming into what it is now. And the entire cast is deeply screwed up, somewhere between Jackie Peyton and Nancy Botwin on the Arkham Asylum Scale of Batshit Lunacy.

Except that with Jackie and Nancy (and Tara Gregson, and Dexter Morgan, and Abed Nadir) there's so much more to the characters than just their idiosyncratic craziness. Dexter has his sardonic narration, Nancy has her equally crazy family and so on. With "Mad Men", there's no getting away from all these unhappy people being unhappy. There's no humor, no adventure, nothing but a sense of gravitas so immense and overwhelming I can practically feel myself being pulled towards the screen. For example: watching Pete squirm in episode 4 probably would've been gratifying if I found Roger or Don to be even mildly likeable. But of course, they're as miserable as everyone else.

On a final note, I don't think this problem has anything at all to do with the writing per se - the dialogue is crisp, story developments make sense, and there's enough characterization to give me a fair-to-decent grasp of the main cast in a relatively short amount of time. It's a well-told story, but that story doesn't appeal to me as a viewer. And while it's entirely possible that the atmosphere becomes a bit more balanced at some later point, I'm not going to drag myself through the depths of abyssal angst to get there.

A Few Words on Comics

Yes, stop the presses, Diana has something to say about the funnybooks again.

I'm at a point where my monthly reading list is down to almost nothing: I've got Mike Carey's "X-Men: Legacy", "Fables" and "Jack of Fables", and Peter David's "X-Factor", and to be quite honest, I could probably drop the latter three without feeling too badly. It's been a year, almost down to the day, since I quit the Savage Critics out of sheer apathy for the mainstream. I don't even bother with the news websites anymore.

In short, I've lost faith in comics. There was a time, not too long ago, where it seemed like a more mature, sophisticated kind of storytelling was on the rise; talented and unorthodox writers were pulling various properties out of stagnation and telling new, interesting stories. Instead, the past six or seven years have been spent in rapid regression across the board, with Marvel and DC degenerating into a distressingly-warped fraternity mindset that panders not to its audience but to itself. I've seen instances of bad judgment that utterly confound me: Batman pissing himself, Spider-Man selling his wife to Satan, Superman reconnecting with America by walking around, rage kitties, radioactive sperm, costumes with spikes on the inside, and more contrived writer's fiat than the Bible.

The days of "X-Statix", "Runaways" and "Alias" are long gone.

But every once in a while, I get curious and pick up a new miniseries, just to see what's being done. Nine times out of ten I find nothing of interest, but sometimes I catch a real gem like "The Umbrella Academy" or "Iron Man: Noir". It's worth the effort.

This week I picked up the second issue of "Neonomicon", written by Alan Moore.

Now, I have a complicated relationship with the works of Alan Moore. On the one hand, his stories have changed the way I perceive comics - and I'm not just referring to the obvious ones. No, I'm talking about "Miracleman", "The Ballad of Halo Jones", "Top 10" - stories that have nowhere near the level of recognition you'd find for "Watchmen" or "V For Vendetta", but are powerful and brilliant works nevertheless. On the other hand, it's no secret that Moore's apparently gone mad, content to publish lesbian slashfic and utterly impenetrable odes to Victorian literature.

I should also note that "Neonomicon" is published by Avatar, which I'll admit should've set off some warning bells. But still, I thought, it's Alan Moore. Surely he's got something clever up his sleeve - or at the very least, something worth reading.

What I found was a nonsense plot that aims for Lovecraft and hits Uwe Boll, concluding with a horrific gang-rape scene that goes on and on for five pages. It's explicit, it's vile, it's gratuitous, it's something Garth Ennis would've claimed as his own with great beaming pride.

Brought to you by Alan Moore.

The fact that I find myself physically disgusted by the work of a creator I once idolized is rather depressing. The thought that I can no longer distinguish between an Alan Moore story and a Garth Ennis story seems even worse. Like a death knell for... not the glory days per se, but the hope that the glory days could come around again. Instead, the old titans have gone mad and their replacements are puerile twats, and right now, as I desperately struggle to forget this awful, awful book, I can't help but feel like it's just one more justification to be done with the mainstream once and for all.