Saturday, November 9, 2013

Television Addiction: Part 4

, I had partly written in the hope that by confessing my crimes, I could be purged of them.Once I had confessed all, the hope was my soul would be unburdened and I would be free to turn over a new leaf and rid myself of my slothful habits.

Alas, it was not to be.I didn't magically lose my addiction just by blogging about it.

And so, since January, I regret to say that I've wasted many more hours of my life watching TV.Despite the huge amount of TV I've been watching, it remains my ambition to give up TV, and start fully living my life.Or that failing, at the very least to redirect more of this time towards reading, which may still be boring and solitary, but at least would improve my mind.At the moment, however, it remains only an ambition.Instead, I keep turning on the television to fill my hours.(In my defense, I think most people watch a lot of TV when they live alone.When you live by yourself, in the evenings it seems to quiet and eerie to just sit silently with a book, so I opt for the sound and picture show of television.And in the morning, the apartment also seems too quiet, and so there's a huge temptation to just turn on the TV some more.And of course in the afternoons )

Well, my philosophy is that if you watched it, you might as well admit it.So here is another post confessing all the hours I wasted on TV, and giving my short capsule reviews on various shows.

(As with before, my viewing habits are limited entirely to what is available at the cheap DVD stores in Cambodia***LINK****.There are shows that some people have recommended to me that I haven't been able to track down out here, but this is what I did watch.)

Simon Schama: A History of


I'm a huge fan of documentaries, and this one was very well done and well produced.Also, added to and , this show helped to complete my education about

Britain's long history.When I first started watching the show, I expected it to be another This Sceptred Isle--a show that would methodically go through all the centuries of British history.I was slightly disappointed then when I realized that the series was skipping over large parts of history entirely.The series would chose on event to examine in detail, and then jump ahead 100 years or so to the next event.for example, was very well done, but other interesting events like the War of the Roses got skipped over completely.Nonetheless, it did a very good job with the stories that it did chose to focus on.

Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States

Another history documentary.This documentary series is at times no stranger to cinematic storytelling, and, in the earlier episodes especially, he brings all his storytelling abilities to this project.The archival footage, the dramatic music, and the bold narration all contribute to the feel of watching something epic.The first 5 or 6 episodes are examples of documentary history at its absolute finest.The problem, from an entertainment perspective at least, is in some of the later episodes the editorializing gets in the way of the story telling.For example, the episode on the 1980s is less a coherent narrative than it is just a list of all the reasons sucked.The episode onis the same.I don't disagree with Oliver Stone's politics, but the powerful narrative thrust of the early episodes gets a bit muddled in the later episodes.Still, inspite of the fact that the narrative quality of the series is not entirely consistent over all 10 episodes, the high points of this series more than make up for the low points.It's well worth checking out.Sidenotes:1). I'm not sure all this information has ever been in one documentary series before.I remember having to learn all my information about the untold history of the

United States in piecemeal fashion.I learned one thing here, another thing there, and just gradually accumulated knowledge.Now it's possible to just watch this documentary, and in 10 short hours accumulate all of this knowledge in one go.Which brings me to my next point:2) It's really surprising they allowed this to be on TV.

And 3). One last observation: Oliver Stone is famous for his conspiracy theories in his movie JFK, but fortunately he largely stays away from conspiracy theories in this series.(He hints that relations between Kennedy and the CIA were not good, but stops short of trying to explicitly connect any dots.)In The Untold History of the United States, Oliver Stone largely sticks to facts that, while they may not be largely reported, are not contested. I think this series is credible.(In my youth I was on-board with some of the Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories, but over time I've come to agree with that spending too much time speculating on unknowns is a waste of time.For Chomsky's thoughts on why we shouldn't waste time speculating about conspiracy theories .)


I didn't expect to see this 1976 BBC miniseries in the Cambodian DVD shops, but I was very happy to stumble upon it.Actually, I've been wanting to get my hands this series for about 20 years now, .(Robert Graves actually wrote two books about the life of Claudius: I, Claudius, and the sequel Claudius the God.I never went on to read Claudius the God because our school library didn't have it, but I,Claudius made a big impression on me. The BBC miniseries covers both books.)Considering how old this series is, it holds up remarkably well, and in my opinion is every bit as interesting to watch as more recent historical dramas.It also shows how great historical fiction about ancient

Rome can be produced on a small budget.And a final bonus: I, Claudius has some great famous actors in it: Brian Blessed, John Rhys-Davies, and for fans, a young (well younger) Patrick Stewart playing Sejanus.

Roots: The Next Generation

I was first introduced to Roots when my 5th grade school teacher showed us the first couple episodes.It wasn't until years later, when I was in

Japan, that I finally got my hands on the whole series.(The Japanese video rental store near my town had the series in stock--in English with Japanese subtitles.)But I've never had an opportunity to watch Roots: The Next Generation until now when I stumbled upon it at a DVD store in

Cambodia.Before I watched this series, I had always assumed that Roots: The Next Generation was just an attempt to milk more money off of the original Roots.But I was mistaken.This is the ending of the story, and without this sequel the series would not have been complete.Roots: The Next Generation came out in 1979 just 2 years after the original Roots, and it picks up right where the original Roots left off.And it completes the goal of the TV series which, like the book, is to follow Alex Haley's family tree all the way from

Africa to the present day.I suspect what happened is that the book got split into two different TV shows for economic reasons--the TV company wasn't willing to commit to the whole story until it knew it had an audience, and only after the success of the original Roots did they agree to complete the story.But now that the whole series has been produced, they should really just stop selling it separately as Roots and Roots: The Next Generation and instead put box up both DVDs together into one package and sell the whole thing as Roots, because it really is just one continuous story.The TV show is from 1979, and has a lot of the hallmarks of television drama from the late 1970s/early 1980s that strike us as cheesy today--over-acting, overly dramatic music that swells up at the end of each episode just as a character looks off into the distance and says some sort of dramatic line, a complete lack of any subtlety, et cetera.And yet, inspite of all its flaws, it's still incredibly addictive to watch. The cheesy 70s television drama still has a strong narrative appeal, and I found myself getting sucked in episode after episode and unable to pull myself away from my couch.(I guess it was not for nothing that Roots was one of the the most watched mini-series in American television history.)All the famous actors who participated in the series also make it fun to watch: Peter Fonda, Marlon Brando, James Earl Jones, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis.

The White Queen

And then low behold, I'm walking around the DVD shop, and I see that they actually have gone ahead and made a TV series based on the War of the Roses.(All I had to do was ask for it apparently.)This series only covers the tail end of the War of the Roses, so I guess I'm still waiting for the epic series that would trace the entirety of the conflict from the beginning to the end.But it was still good history for what I got.Now, I know this series got pretty terrible reviews [.Also ].And yes, a lot of the acting could have been better.And yes, the pacing also should have been better.(Some events that really should have received more dramatic importance--like the death of King Henry VI--just got muddled through very quickly).But, for all its flaws, I still found this series fascinating to watch.If you don't like history, you should probably stay away from this series.But if you're a history geek like I am, then you'll be willing to forgive a lot of bad acting for a good historical story, and inspite of everything I found the underlying story fascinating.It's a complicated part of British history, and they did a very good job of trying to provide some sort of narrative to it.It is also interesting to compare their portrayal of Richard III .Roughly the same events happen, but they put a very different interpretation on the motivations of the characters.

Michael Moore's The Awful Truth

This wasn't my first encounter with The Awful Truth.I've seen it before back in the day.But when I saw the DVDs in the store, I decided to buy them and work through the series again anyway.Parts of The Awful Truth I remembered very well.Parts of it I didn't remember at all.(I'm not sure if that's because I never saw the whole thing, or if it's just because ).But anyway, I've now worked my way through the entire season.Like most liberals, I have a lot of ambivalence towards Michael Moore ( - e- in this blog before).I sympathize with his politics, but I believe that anything that misinforms or misleads does a disservice to the political discourse. (The extent to which Michael Moore's movies are misleading is always a source of controversy.Part of the problem is that most of the right-wing hatchet men who attack Moore's movies are seldom any more honest than

Mooreis, and this leads to a lot of claims and counterclaims that just make my head spin.)However, the great thing about The Awful Truthis that it isn't a documentary--it's just pure political theater, so you don't need to worry about fact checking it, you just enjoy the theater.Michael Moore does some great political stunts like getting throat cancer victims to sing Christmas carols at Philip Morris, for instance.Or driving around a Sodom mobile to every state where sodomy is still illegal.In the course of the show, Michael Moore of course manages to really piss off a lot of rich and powerful people--making me a little bit suspicious about the fact that the show was mysteriously cancelled after two seasons despite getting good ratings.And yet, much of the format of The Awful Truth--sending correspondents out to conduct satirical interviews with people who don't realize they're being satirized until it's too late--is what is still doing.And in fact, considering The Daily Show manages to produce 4 episodes a week (compared to The Awful Truth's 12 episodes a season) The Daily Showis arguably doing Michael Moore's job a lot more efficiently than Michael Moore ever did.


I watched this because after .I've got mixed feelings about this show.On the one hand, the general idea is really cool.And, at least in terms of just creating an atmosphere, Carnivale does a great job of mixing in a magical fantasy element with the real events of the 1930s.Nowhere is this more evident than in the opening credits:

Furthermore, I think it was an interesting idea to try and re-imagine the life of Father Coughlin () and the pro-fascist forces as part of a wider spiritual battle between good and evil.

But the pacing of this show just killed me.I can handle a mystery getting teased out for an episode or two before it's resolution, but when a mystery is just endlessly teased out and never resolved, then I start to get impatient.And when the writers seem intent on adding just more mysteries and questions while appearing to forget about the ones they've already introduced, then I just get frustrated.This may just be a personality preference.I like nice neat logical stories where everything ties up neatly at the end.Furthermore, if I'm forced to choose between the two, I generally prefer story to atmosphere.People who have different personalities than mine will probably enjoy Carnivalemore than I did.For Whisky's take on Carnivale--.Another interesting link is this article: .(Link via Whisky.)

House of Cards

I had high hopes for this series.I love political dramas, and I'm a big fan of .Alas, I regret to say that the series was awful.So awful, in fact, that I didn't even bother finishing the last few episodes.(What was the point?None of the characters seemed at all like real people, and I the plot was obviously manufactured and contrived.)The , and I basically find myself in agreement with their analysis of all the show's faults.

The Newsroom

.I first started watching this show because it was recommended by the magazine , one of the expat magazines out here in


I was only a few episodes in before I started wondering what in the world the editors of Asia Life were thinking.The show was so cheesy, and so contrived, and just well, ridiculous really.().

And yet, despite all the problems with the show--despite the cheesy soap opera relationships, the contrived plot points, and the arrogant 20/20 hindsight smugly applied to every news event, I still found myself watching episode after episode.Aaron Sorkin may mess up a lot of things, but he still understands the mechanics of screenwriting very well.Each episode may be terrible objectively if you focus on the plot, but Aaron Sorkin still knows how to keep the dialogue snappy and he knows how to keep the forward momentum of the story going.So the show may be terrible, but it never really gets boring.And, I have to confess that even while I was rolling my eyes at how cheesy the plot was, I still kept watching it.Also, if you're a political junky, then all the political diatribes mixed-in with the soap opera drama is another guilty pleasure.On several of the polemical speeches throughout the series, I think Sorkin did a very good job of sticking it to the Republican Party.Of course when Sorkin bashes causes I'm sympathetic to, like Occupy Wall Street, then I enjoy it a lot less, but I guess that's just my liberal bias double-standard showing through. (I think actually there's actually good case to be made for the strength of a grass roots bottom up leaderless movement.But the straw-men Occupy Wall Street characters that Sorkin created were never able to give a good defense for this.)

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