Category Archives: TV

The Sum of Our Parts

This past weekend I got to meet up with two of my best friends, Toby and Jorj. They feel like they’re my oldest friends but that’s not the case. I met Jorj in 1997/98, just before my daughter was born. He introduced me to Toby in 2000, a week after my first wedding, and Toby and I became fast friends. I got to experience a lot of things I’d longed to do in childhood with Toby and Jorj. I helped create a comic book. I wrote while Jorj and Toby handled the art. It was submitted to one place (and rejected) but it was a great time. We made a movie together (which I’m still editing, even though it’s been 11 years since production) that is a cross between Star Wars and Looney Tunes. I spent an afternoon reading comics with Toby. Naturally, our conversation turned to those things and stuff from our childhoods. We didn’t know each other in childhood. Jorj and Toby met in college. I met them shortly after that. Yet, there was a certain amount of collective memory that was great. Comic books (Toby and I), movies (all three), favorite cartoons (all three) Transformers (Toby and Jorj), Masters of the Universe and Star Wars (all three)…it was great.

Now most of a week has passed and I still think about our conversations. It’s funny how much we–and now I include you in this–are pieced together with the media we grew up with. Who knew that 25 years later I’d look back at Moss Man with such happiness? It’s one of the reasons I started my other blog MediaBio (which I’ve neglected but plan on going back to sooner than later). I’ve seen it with my students, too, how quickly the older ones (mostly graduated now) look back on Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (I shiver just typing those words together in that string) and smile. These shows, cartoons, and toys become major strands in our cultural DNA.

It makes me smile, but I also worry a little. It seems with each generation, these things become more important than they were. And I have to wonder if they hinder more than help. As someone who was raised obsessed with media, I can see how my life is where it is because of it. What happens with 24/7 television, and entertainment on the ‘net, and the steady stream of media that is there for you all the time? When I can turn on TV and find several shows on pawn shops, several on hoarders hoarding everything from massive collections to trash to animals, several shows on ghost hunters, on children going through dance competitions and beauty pageants, families of rednecks, religious psychos, and crazy people, I have to wonder if the sums we’re putting out there aren’t going to hurt.

An argument can be made that there’s always been garbage to consume via media, but the amount of garbage is horrifying. On the flip side of that coin, there is more quality television than there ever has been. Television series that are like novels in their complexity of character and storytelling. I haven’t seen Breaking Bad but know that’s a favorite, as is Mad Men and Sons of Anarchy (neither I’ve seen, all I want to). Boardwalk Empire is a favorite of mine, as was Lost. Even sitcoms like Modern Family make their traditional counterparts seem like hack writing and acting.

I guess it’s because I love it so much that I worry. What will today’s children sit and remember fondly in 25 years? What will we think about then?

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The Incredible Nerd

The television series The Incredible Hulk, starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno was woven into the fabric of my childhood. Yet, I realized recently that I had never seen the entirety of the very first episode, the pilot movie. So I called it up on Netflix Instant Streaming and watched it last night. Watching it made me realize what has been wrong with the more recent film versions of the Hulk.

I enjoyed 2003’s Hulk, starring Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly, and directed by Ang Lee quite a bit. I want to get that out of the way because I know many people consider this movie a failure. I don’t. I liked the story, I liked the acting, and I liked the Hulk. He was massive, he emoted, and he was fun to watch. Still, though I liked it a lot, there was still something about that didn’t quite feel right to me.

2008’s The Incredible Hulk is notable only because it’s tying in with this summer’s The Avengers . Tony Stark makes an appearance, there may clues to other Marvel movies, the nerds align and cheer with glee. Except it’s dumb.

The 2003 film is an intelligently crafted movie with a real concept behind it. The 2008 movie is an excuse for a brawl in the streets of a major American city (I’ve forgotten which one, mainly because it doesn’t matter) and to tie into The Avengers. Both are missing something that made the 1977-1981 television series the classic it remains to this day: pathos.

The older I got as I watched the TV show’s reruns, the more David Banner’s plight seemed more important–and more interesting. This is a man who wants to do good, who wants to love, yet keeps losing the people closest to him, first by happenstance, then because of his self-inflicted curse. Bill Bixby’s portrayal of Banner is great. Caring, careful, and empathetic, you can’t not watch him onscreen. He portrays Banner as an intelligent, caring, yet flawed man who must reconcile his sins every time the monster comes and disappears. He Dr. Jekyll. He is Dr. Frankenstein. He is Dr. Richard Kimball. But you care about him. And if Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk now seems quaint and silly (and he does, oh man, he does!), then it’s forgivable because of Bill Bixby’s performance.

Eric Bana’s situation in Hulk also provides pathos, yet not in the same way as Bill Bixby’s. Because Bixby’s Banner radiated himself trying to solve a problem brought on by his wife’s death in a car accident, you already care about and understand why he blasts himself with the gamma rays even while you’re hoping he won’t do it. The audience is seeing a tragedy in the making, brought on by raw emotion. Bana’s gamma blast is more like the comic book’s version, where Banner is helping someone else who is in danger of being blasted. The added empathy that helps the story immensely is that Banner’s father, played by Nick Nolte, has already been messing around with his DNA. The creature is essentially already there, just in need of a little push out. But, by my money, it’s just not the same. Yes, Bana’s Banner is more a victim and should be in need of more empathy, yet it doesn’t work out that way. I still feel more for Bixby’s Banner than Bana’s Banner.

In The Incredible Hulk, Edward Norton also plays Bruce Banner. This isn’t a sequel to Hulk , yet in many ways feels like it is. It also feels a little like a sequel to the TV series, including the musical cue Bixby gets at the end of each episode. I’ll be honest here, I had to look at Wikipedia to even know how this Banner becomes the Hulk. I still don’t remember. It doesn’t matter, because this is the least sympathetic Hulk by far. Norton’s Banner tries to get into our hearts but never quite gets there. What time is there with all the running away from, being chased he’s doing? At least the comic book feel of Bana’s Banner left the viewer feeling something, Norton’s Banner is just sort of there. Yes, Norton is a physically perfect Banner, and yes, he can be a good actor, but in this…eh.

Overall, I think that the 2003 and 2008 movie suffers from their closeness to the comic books. They’re not adapted enough. Kenneth Johnson’s adaptation of the Hulk is akin to Christopher Nolan’s adaptation of Batman: it’s set in our world. Yes, there’s a fantastic element to it, yes, there are unbelievable–even silly–things that happen, yet, for the time it takes to watch (the the very least) the pilot movie, I was left rooting for Bixby’s Banner and feeling sad when he loses his second chance at love. And while the visual representations of Bana’s Banner and Norton’s Banner might be more spectacular (yes, I am one the people who actually prefer CGI Hulk to Lou Ferrigno Hulk) the pathos just isn’t there, and we the audience inevitably don’t care.

 

The Final Day of 33, or Summer Is Almost Over

Tomorrow I turn 34. Not a terrible number, but not as good as 26. Though I have to be honest, my 26th year was pretty bad. My thirties have definitely been better, even though I still often feel a sort of desperate need unfulfilled. But that’s neither here nor there, happy birthday (tomorrow) to me! However, along with my birthday comes The End of the Summer. People who have jobs outside of teaching and who do not have children may have forgotten what The End of the Summer is like. I know I almost did until Courtney started going to school, and then I began working at one. Next week at this time, I will be talking to a group of freshman students who will only be in my class for four-and-a-half days before a new group comes in. Don’t ask. So, for this week, I’ll continue to pretend I get to write full-time. Don’t cry for me, Argentina, because things are happening.

Anyway, I haven’t read much else since I posted my list a few weeks back. I finished Robert McCannon’s The Five, which was excellent. A rock novel with a large amount of suspense and a surprising supernatural element that reveals itself slowly, very slowly. “Is it a horror novel?” I’ve been asked. “Who cares?” is my response. It’s a damn fine novel that I recommend. It brought me through the range of emotions and the final chapter was heartbreaking and hopeful, devastating and inspiring. Read this book.

When finished with The Five, instead of focusing on either The Freelancer’s Survival Guide or The Rising (and please don’t take this as anything more than my own need at the moment) I began reading Sleepless Nights in the Procrustean Bed by Harlan Ellison. Now, if you’ve followed my blog or follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you know I love Harlan Ellison’s work (I’m pretty fond of the man, too, at least from a reader’s perspective and the two phone messages he left for me) and I felt like I needed a dose of Ellison right about now. I’ll probably be done with the slim collection of nonfiction before I have to go back to the Day Job, in which case I will focus my attention on those other two books.

Another discovery I made this summer is the BBC hit Being Human, which inspired the SyFy version that I have never seen. Being Human has some missteps in the writing here and there, but my wife and I have enjoyed it. At it’s best, it’s the relationships between the main characters I enjoy. They have a chemistry that works well. Pamela and I are into the third series and we’ll see what happens from there.

So that’s it for now. I’ll talk to you soon.

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