The Misery Olympics

Don’t get me wrong, I watch a metric ton of formulaic American pulp drama. I’m there for Scandal, I turn up for The Good Wife and Conviction. I tuned in to House and The West Wing. I’ve dipped a toe into GOT and been known to sample Sons of Anarchy, I even road tested The Walking Dead before it jumped the shark and blithely ignored that living humans are a finite resource after the zombie apocalypse. I keep up with Elementary. I’m here for the latest season of Madam Secretary. 

I draw the line at the misery olympics…. Grey’s Anatomy. 

Before there was the Red Wedding, there was George getting dragged by a bus. There was Denny dying on prom night. There was the Lexi-Mark plane crash double sucker punch. 

Who dares believe they are strong enough to face down Shonda Rhymes after all that?

Not. Me. 

There’s a bit of leftover orange peel running America, that’s enough misery to last me a life time. I’m sorry Shonda, but you win. I bow out. I retire, defeated. I just can’t watch April Kepner’s baby die or McDreamy get front-end slammed by a rolling SUV. 

And if you have no idea who any of these people are, or what any of this was about… by all means buy the boxset and find out. But do friends and family a favour and forewarn them because they will walk in on you sobbing uncontrollably, and they will not understand why. 

We Think Therefore We Know

We’ve been on a chilli kick recently (I was going to apologise to Mexico because my secret ingredient is HP Sauce, but then I found out chilli con carne is from Texas so nvm). And the other week I watched episode one of the new MacGyver reboot while simmering up a storm.   

I don’t think it translates. 

For those that haven’t seen it (or haven’t seen The Simpsons, where Marie’s sisters are obsessed with it) the original was an 80’s show about a guy who always has to rig up some diy gadget to get out of some other guy’s secret vault… just imagine Ian Fleming invented Pinterest and you’ll have the gist. 

But the thing is… 21st century people don’t care about a guy who can make a bomb out of a battery and some tinfoil… because we all think we can do that. We think we know everything. And whatever we don’t already know, we’ve got covered with good wifi. Let’s face it… people who carry around miniature computers in the backs of their jeans are hard to impress. 

So, cute as MacGyver might be, its boring to be instructed in how to create a thermite reaction with things we found in a janitors closet… we know Mac… we can Google too. 

Art Imitating Life

Lajos Egri says “Drama must not only entertain but teach as well” 

I have a pet peeve. Anyone who’s ever asked me for a coffee or gone to brunch with me will have seen it… I like my coffee like I like my life: UNCOMPLICATED. With the exception of Starbucks (which as we know doesn’t count) where my order has more synonyms for sugar than the back of a Coke Zero, I like my coffee black, no trimmings, no twiddly bits. To my endless social discomfort it turns out that’s a lot harder to get than it sounds… I’ll just have a black coffee please. An Americano? Yes, an Americano, thanks. With milk? No, thank you, Black. Sugar? No, thank you. *Moments later* A black coffee arrives… with a small jug of milk and some passive aggressive sugarlumps. Cue me holding forth on how hard it is not to be rude before the caffeine arrives, and coffee gremlins who think they know what you want better than you do… and whoever I’m with rolling their eyes until their retinas detach. It’s ugly. No one wins. 


Enter Fortitude. Season 2, Episode 3. 

Bartender putting down coffee cup: You want milk?

Dennis Quaid’s character who’s name I forget, in tones of abject horror: What?

B, in tones suggesting Quaid is, perhaps, a little slow: With your Americano.

DQ: You don’t put milk in an Americano. It’s the only one you don’t put milk in. That’s why they call it an Americano. Not a latte, for example, or a Cappuccino.

B: You’re the guy that killed the bear. (Quaid killed some prop teeth glued to the end of a pooper scooper next to a laptop playing Frozen Planet in episode 3.)    

DQ: So?

B: Coffee expert too. (Ooo, Dennis, handy to be in the arctic for burns like that.)

DQ: You’re welcome. 
I don’t suppose this is technically what Egri meant, but fingers crossed some baristas were watching. 

All the men and women merely players

Does it matter that we know all the faces off by heart these days? It was Marlee Matlin who made me think of this, but it applies to all actors simply because of the way the human brain stores information. Or… at least… the way my brain stores information. I first saw Matlin playing Joey Lucas in The West Wing and I loved her. She’s gorgeous. She’s a great actress. She also happens to be deaf. And once I knew that about her, I couldn’t un-know it. And it means that when I see her in other shows I know in advance her character is deaf… which means if a show tries to use it to create drama… well… they can’t. Enter Code Black. In comes Matlin on a gurney, passenger/victim in a car accident. First comes a glimpse from her perspective. A silent gurney’s-eye-view of A&E hubbub. Then comes the wait, the wait for the Drs to catch up, for someone to reveal the hidden facet of their character – that they know sign language – for the revelation that the driver of the car is her interpreter, her voice. Then comes the heartwarming comedy of errors as everyone struggles to understand each other until the universal language of love brings them together.

So does it matter that I always know what’s going to happen the second I see her, and therefore don’t participate in the dramatic moment? Does it matter any more than that fact that the first time Rob Lowe entered the show my head started digging around in the section where I store West Wing trivia and went oh, that’s the guy who played Sam Seybourne… what’s his name again? Or that I then dug around in the bit where I store John Hughes movies and went he also played that guy who played the sax in that movie that looks like it’s a John Hughes movie but actually isn’t… what was that movie called? Oh yeah. St Elmo’s Fire… So what’s his name again…? Does it matter that the whole time my brain was doing this I wasn’t actually watching Code Black anymore? Yes, it does… it’s lazy writing. If you want to use a character’s deafness to create drama… you need a less recognisable actress.

Green Electric Sheep

It is my armchair critic’s opinion that tv dream sequences are always green. So when a show tries to convince you a favourite character has died with a trailer glimpse of them stretched out on a slab, I can always reassure you with the truth: it’s a dream sequence. How do I know? It’s tinged with green. Do androids dream of green-tinged electric sheep. Probably. 

I tested my theory on Silent Witness, a long time favourite with my family, and Dr Nikki Alexander, a long time favourite character. Watching the show together is something of a tradition for us, a lone hold-out against a slow drift into changing tastes and schedules. This, despite a strange phenomenon. The show has slowed down to a near-tortuous degree. Each scene is at least 30 seconds too long, lingering dreamily on pieces of evidence or stricken faces of bereaved relatives. Silent Witness is in about as much of a hurry as its corpses. But we show up, my family and I, and we enjoy it every week. We like the actors, we like the characters, we even like the comfy predictability of the plots. It’s friendly and worn-in to perfection, like the sofas we sit on to view it. 

So there were a few raised pulses at a glimpse of Nikki stretched out on a slab under a white sheet. Was our favourite forensic pathologist really dead…?

“Don’t worry.” I counselled. “It’s green.”