Sunday, January 12, 2014

Tonight... on HBO

Tonight two shows premiere on HBO: one a brand new anthology series, the other a much-anticipated return.

True Detective is the hotly tipped new series that stars Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. It's always a huge deal when movie actors appear on TV shows, even if, in the case of Harrelson, TV is where they got their start. And in the case of True Detective, the hype is entirely deserved. The story is about two detectives, Rust (McConaughey) and Martin (Harrelson) are being interviewed about a case that happened in 1995. Part of the story is set in the present, with the two men being interviewed separately, but the majority of it is set in 1995, where Harrelson and McConaughey are not only playing characters 18 years younger, but doing so believably. Now they're cynical and either part of the system or fighting against it; back then they were thrown together despite kinda hating each other, and that becomes the central story. The actual rape and murder of a young woman found in a weird ritualistic pose right out of Hannibal is secondary to the relationship between these two men — who they were before they met, who they are now that they're together, how they cope with one another... and the mystery that the viewer is forced to ask in every episode: what drove them apart, and what happened during the investigation?

I don't want to say much more than that other than to say this show has smart, witty writing, tour de force performances from Harrelson and McConaughey, and a gripping story of a murder investigation conducted by two polar opposites. This is an anthology series, which means at the end of this season this story will be over and we'll move on to a new cast, new case, new setting. Here's hoping next season can capture some of the magic that this season will.

And in the other corner is Girls. I loved the first season, despite not always liking the characters. By the second season, I kind of despised the characters, due to the fact that none of them has a single redeeming quality. There's Jessa, the self-involved artiste who never thinks of the consequences of her ridiculously selfish actions; Shoshana, the funny one who is almost too silly, incredibly annoying, and often clueless; Marnie, the wince-inducing girl who makes her own bed and then whines about having to lie in it; and at the centre of it all, Hanna, the little girl who refuses to grow up, waltzing around in her little girl clothes and not having one shred of sympathy for any of the troubles going on around her. She's the person who no one would be surprised to hear utter the words, "I'm so sorry about your mother's death, but can we bring this back around to my e-book now?"

And yet... I couldn't stop watching. I hated them — HATED THEM — and if the entire foursome were hit by a city bus, I'd just shrug and think oh well, and hope we could see more of Adam and the other guys, who are far more sympathetic and entertaining. And yet... they make me laugh, and I feel their pain, and they all have human moments, and I think Lena Dunham is a freakin' genius. Do I think she and Hanna are the same? Absolutely not; I think she's purposely created a despicable character because they're so much more fun to explore. Nice girls are boring. I will admit the sudden season 2 introduction of, "Oh look, Hanna has some weird OCD problem and has to be medicated and has a weird neck tic she's never had before and OHMYGOD DID SHE JUST SHOVE A Q-TIP ALL THE WAY IN HER EAR?! (More horrifying to me than anything on The Walking Dead, by the way) seemed completely out of left field, as if Dunham thought that maybe she'd made Hanna SO despicable people would stop watching, so she had to create a problem out of Hanna's hands to try to explain why she seems so incapable of empathy.

And yet... Dunham makes it work. In season 3 the girls are all back together, sort of broken, Hanna is back on her meds, and everything seems like it just might have a whiff of normal until Adam's crazy sister shows up, and then the rollercoaster begins all over again. And in every episode, we see Hanna's tits, and Adam is part sociopath and part puppy dog, and Marnie sings and you are loudly begging her to please stop oh please stop you are embarrassing yourself, and Shoshana talks so fast you think the actress might be some remarkable robot fashioned by her real-life father (David Mamet), who clearly brought her up to perfect the metronome style way of chatter he forces his actors to adopt, and Jessa does something to piss someone off... and you can't wait for the next episode.

Check them out, and let me know what you think!

Monday, January 06, 2014

"Are You My Mummy?": Watching Doctor Who with Kids

So in my ongoing quest to watch my kids watch Doctor Who (allowing me to live vicariously through the hiding-behind-the-couchness that I missed by not watching it as a child), this past week we blew through a bunch of the Eccleston season and I even started watching the "Green Death" Classic story with my son. As I said on Facebook, by the end of the first episode of the story, my son was somehow following it (quite a feat for a 6-year-old when most of it is about environmentalism) and he wanted to know when the monsters were going to show up. Apparently Pertwee's Doctor ending up on a planet where giant spiders and beasts were attacking him wasn't enough. By the time we got to the end of the episode, and the disgusting maggots showed up, the look on his face was priceless. We haven't watched the third episode yet because he was so freaked out.

My son and I watched "Time of the Doctor" two days after Christmas (it was a tough two days trying to avoid Facebook and Twitter!) And when an aged Matt Smith told Clara to stay behind and allow him the victory of her safety, my son immediately burst into tears. Interestingly, during the explosive (literally) regeneration scene up in the tower, he was so transfixed by the destruction of the ships and the Doctor's speech that his emotions weren't quite registering what was happening. But when Matt Smith, now younger, stood on the ship at the end of that episode, and Amelia went skittering by, and Amy descended the stairs, I was trying desperately to keep it together, and not doing a very good job, but then Smith's face glowed, and Clara begged him not to leave her, and my son was an absolute mess all over again. He cried and cried, and cried even harder when Capaldi quite suddenly appeared. "THAT'S my Doctor now?!" he said, and sobbed some more. You never forget losing your first Doctor (I thought I'd never recover from Eccleston, and there was no way I was going to like that Tennant guy, I swore at the time), and for him it was a visceral, horrible thing. I posted this on Facebook, but here he is half an hour after the episode had ended, still crying, still clutching his sonic screwdriver. For the record, I'd only stopped crying just before the photo was taken, so I wasn't doing much better.

Poor little boo.

Ah well, back to scaring the bejesus out of him.

So we moved over to Eccleston so he could see more of that season. He'd only watched "Rose" (as I recounted here), so it was on to the next one. Now, here's the issue when you're dealing with a six-year-old boy who can't quite wrap his head around the idea of time travel: when you watch the episodes out of order, and have seen "Day of the Doctor," where Gallifrey was NOT destroyed, it's really hard to go back and watch "The End of the World" and try to explain why the Doctor seems so broken. "Well, he's just seen his world blown up."

Him: "But he didn't blow it up! Gallifrey is just fine! My Doctor changed that."
Me: "Right, but he doesn't realize that yet. This is the original timeline where Gallifrey was still blown up."
Him: "But if the timeline was CHANGED, the Doctor should remember that my Doctor helped stop it. And wait a minute... this Doctor wasn't there!"
Me: "No, because he was the older Doctor at the time, remember? And he regenerated into this Doctor right at the end of that episode; we saw his eyes start to change, remember?"
Him: "So... if that Doctor regenerated into THIS Doctor, then why can't he remember what he did?"
Me: "Well, when more than one Doctor exists at a time, then they don't remember it... or something. They said something at the end of the episode about how the other Doctors wouldn't remember. Gallifrey is saved, but not in this timeline."
Him: "I don't get it."

Eventually I just said that due to them filming these episodes before deciding to change history, we just have to roll with it. He seemed to accept that, and we kept going.

And then we got to "The Empty Child." The day of "The Day of the Doctor" (that was an awkward opening to a sentence) I was on Space as one of the interviewees talking on the aftershow, and when we were running through the dress rehearsal, we were doing made-up questions and answers. They asked me what my favourite episode was. I couldn't answer that, but I could say what was the first episode that affected me deeply — so deeply, in fact, that I thought I'd never watch it again. And now my kids (yes, for the "Father's Day" episode my 9yo daughter joined us and she seemed rather hooked) were begging me not to skip the next episode. "It's... haunting." "Hunting what?" my son asked. "No, haunting. It leaves an impression on you that haunts you afterwards. I don't know if I want to watch it again. The little boy in it looks a lot like you." Well, THAT did it. Now they HAD to watch the episode.

A little boy, lost and alone during the Blitz in London in 1940, wandering through the streets in a gas mask calling out for his mummy and begging someone to open the door. "I'm scared of the bombs and I just want my mummy." And he looks just like my son, who is the same age. Yeah, I'm all over that one. Can't wait to watch it again and have my heart break into a million pieces when they won't let the little boy into the house. The kids were horrified (about 20 minutes in my son said, with awe, "This is haunting," much to my delight) and loved it all at once, exactly what the best Doctor Who episodes are supposed to do. When the medical doctor's face began to transform into the gasmask, my son covered his face and leapt behind me on the couch so he wouldn't see; my daughter covered her ears and closed her eyes as tightly as she could. My son was upset and angry that they wouldn't open the door for the little boy. My daughter didn't understand how the nanogenes could have done this; they must be horrible creatures, she thought. There was a LOT of explaining on my part. And in the end, the love of a mother overpowers the deformity of the little boy, and all is restored.

One thing I must point out is that by the second episode of the first New season, my son threw his hands up in the air and said, "Is there such a thing as an episode of Doctor Who where someone doesn't die?! Does someone ALWAYS DIE?!" So at the end of this episode, I had an entirely new appreciation for the Doctor leaping about and cheering that just this once, nobody dies. And my son was elated as well. Well, until we cut to Captain Jack's ship and it looked like he was going to go down with the bomb, at which point my son once again threw his hands up into the air and said, "Oh COME ON!!" Hahaha!! (He was quite relieved when the TARDIS showed up and saved the day.)

I'm excited to move him through the ninth Doctor to get to the tenth, and eventually he'll get to see his Doctor show up for the first time. And we'll get to watch the entire thing unfold again. Of course, dreading that moment of the "Time of the Doctor." But by then, I'm sure he'll be completely taken in by Capaldi's Doctor and the regeneration will be much easier to handle. Because of course, I've never cried a second time at Eccleston or Tennant's regenerations, right? :::sniffle:::