The Problem with Doctor Who (7b, Spring 2013)

There is a somewhat famous adage in the film trade, attributed to Hitchcock, and I'll paraphrase it here: If you show two men at a table and then a bomb unexpectedly goes off, you will have thrilled the audience for a moment. But if you show two men at a table, then show a bomb underneath the table, you will have thrilled the audience for several minutes [as they anticipate the bomb].

Doctor Who thus far this spring gives me this feeling of watching two people at a table. Talking. A lot. And at this point I'm just waiting for the bomb. Even wishing for it in the hopes that something will actually happen.

I'm not alone in this. Any number of people I've talked to, e-mails I've received, have said similar things. The sum total: We're bored!

What have we got? Let's review: The Doctor has tracked down Clara and taken her on as a companion because he's curious about how this person keeps dying and reappearing in different timelines. Okay, this is good, this is something we can work with. Except: (a) The Doctor's curiosity is not nearly heightened enough. I want to see him get obsessed, I want to watch him go mad with trying to figure it all out; and (b) Clara isn't interesting. She's just an average person, somewhat irritating, and so the viewers aren't drawn in. Some are actively repelled, but most are merely indifferent. And it's never good to have your main character fixated on something the audience doesn't find worth being fixated on. It's one big yawn.

Well, all right, maybe she'll get more interesting as we go? Maybe The Doctor will get increasingly worked up? Maybe they've just been slow out of the gate with building the drama?

And then we had this Great Intelligence bit that seems to have been mostly dropped. It gives one the feeling that the distraction is intentional, rather like a smokescreen used by Oz's Wizard. If that's true—if, for instance, Clara were the bomb under the table, meant to go off at a certain time—it would be helpful if the audience were given some reason to believe that. Let's take Hitchcock's metaphor a step further. Two men are at a table and we see a shoe under the table. We might think, Hmm. Shoe? But shoes aren't all that interesting. But if the shoe were really a bomb . . . It's only interesting, it only counts, if the audience knows the shoe is a bomb. Or at least has an inkling it might be.

So if Clara is a shoe bomb . . . You see? It only counts if there's something about her that's not quite right (and I mean more than the fact that she's lived a couple times before; reincarnation, so what, Captain Jack did it better and was a hell of a lot more entertaining).

In total, what we're lacking is a threat. That sense of the ominous. It doesn't have to happen all at once, but it does need to happen for audiences to stay engaged with the story. It should be building from week to week. But it isn't.

And we need to care about the characters as well. Because a threat to someone you don't care about doesn't mean much to you. I mean, I suppose if someone pulled a gun on a stranger, you'd be horrified, but somewhere deep inside you'd also be glad it wasn't you, or your brother, or someone you really knew and loved. (And if you don't love your brother, maybe you'd be sorry it wasn't him who had the gun on him, but that's something else again.)

Clara, for the audience, is still more or less a stranger. Pull a gun on her. We don't care. Kill her again, go ahead, see if she comes back . . . That would actually be way more interesting than everything else we've seen thus far. In fact, that would make a marvelous tipping point for The Doctor, would it not? If he was finally driven to try to kill her just to see if she stayed dead? Sort of the antithesis of his moral core, but it would show how far beyond rational this "puzzle" had pushed him. In that case, The Doctor could be the bomb . . . If only they'd throw the viewers a bone.

ETA: Someone has approached me with the idea Clara is a TARDIS or some kind of time machine. (No, I don't listen to podcasts, so . . .) Um, okay, could be the reason the TARDIS as we know her has behaved oddly around Clara. Lacks originality in that it just grabs Gaiman's script from last year and stretches it out a bit, though. (In fact, that would probably have been the total of that creative meeting conversation: "That was fun, let's do more of that.") And doesn't speak to the utter lack of tension this spring (except to say it's difficult to really make a TARDIS, even in human form, all that interesting). Even if Clara is some kind of time machine, my basic point is: She's boring. The whole story, which has the opportunity to be interesting, has failed to be very interesting at all. If she's a TARDIS, great, let's go with that, but please DO SOMETHING.


Television: Doctor Who, "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS"

It's evidently important to The Doctor that the TARDIS and his companion get along. I would think it would be pretty clear if the TARDIS didn't like someone, since surely she would and could simply jettison the offender into space? Or maybe the TARDIS simply tolerates the ones she doesn't like since she knows there will be a new one along eventually.

In any case, the TARDIS has been taken in by a salvage vessel. She holds up valiantly under torture (the salvagers' attempts to break her open). Clara is trapped inside . . . Time to bond and play nice?

Desperate to save Clara, The Doctor promises the salvagers the TARDIS if they'll just help him get it open and Clara out. I would hope he's insincere. If the TARDIS knew, I don't think she'd take it well.

The Doctor and the salvagers get inside. Then The Doctor locks them all in and sets the TARDIS' self-destruct for 30 minutes to force everyone to look for (and ideally find) Clara.

The whole situation seems to force The Doctor out of character. Are we supposed to believe that the existence of Clara is starting to get to him? Make him mental? That he's so obsessed with her he's willing to go to outrageous lengths to find her, keep her, discover what makes her tick? I can see and surmise these things from all the various episodes—cobble together an understanding—but the writers and actors have failed to make me feel anything. The stories and acting have been terribly flat.

The only character to like at this point is the TARDIS itself. I'd be glad for her to eat everyone and go on her merry way. Or really, I'd like to see the TARDIS be the one to beat the villain for once. Her against the Great Intelligence? That'd be pretty damn awesome. (The TARDIS  is like the High Priestess in Tarot. She always knows more than she's telling.)

The problem just now happens to be some random monsters on the TARDIS. Upon seeing them I immediately assumed the TARDIS was the one to send/create them. And what was with the use of blur when the monsters were on screen? Dimensional shift? Or just for show? And then there was the echo thing . . . ::shrug:: Once again there is no tension to any of what happens. That's been the prime problem with this season.

Okay so: they find Clara, and the TARDIS' engine is overheating, and there are monsters (who have eaten one of the salvagers) . . . And the writers and actors and directors have failed to make us care much.

And now there are multiple Claras and Doctors due to a tear in time, a tiny leaking of the past inside the TARDIS. And we still don't care. And when we find out the guy who thinks he's an android is really human? Nope, don't care.

It's pretty bad when a show I once enjoyed immensely (several seasons ago) and then just kind of enjoyed becomes something to be "got through" each week. So why do I still watch? Hope springs infernal, as they say, and I keep hoping Doctor Who will get good again at some point. That something clever or amazing will happen that will make it all worth it. Because no one likes to think they've wasted that much time watching something that isn't any good. So they throw more time at it because eventually they have to believe it will pay off.

And of course it turns out the monsters are actually Clara (or at least one of them is): her future is to be burned in the TARDIS. She dies again.

But then what threat are they to the living people? Why would these things wish to harm their own selves? Do they not recognize, are they really trying to warn? Where is the logic in this?

And finally, thinking they're about to die, The Doctor demands to know who or what Clara is. He tells her that she's lived before, and died before, and supposedly scares her with his insanity except there's simply nothing at all intimidating about Matt Smith, so . . . Plus, Clara doesn't really act or sound all that frightened. And it all happens so fast, like so much being thrown away (something that really should have had more time and been handled with more force).

Oh, but it turns out the monsters are meant to scare Clara and The Doctor away because the TARDIS needs them to leave. But they find the rift (we had one of those a few seasons back, didn't we?) and some rock music and are able to tell themselves to reset time with a "big friendly button." Um . . . okay. Whatever.

Sum total: Clara forgets everything The Doctor has said about her living and dying before. And about the library and the book and The Doctor's name. Or we're at least supposed to assume she has. If she has . . . so what? And if she hasn't . . . so what? ::shrug::

I'm gonna go watch Game of Thrones.

Television: Smash, "The Producers"

The PR machine is at work with Ivy being featured in some kind of television/video segment highlighting Broadway taking young students for "master classes." And Anna and Karen are part of a photo shoot . . . But Jimmy is a no-show.

Meanwhile, Tom tells Julia to ditch Scott so they can do Gatsby as a musical. Yeah, right. Can Julia risk thwarting Scott a second time after only just reviving their friendship (and possibly a relationship)? Actually . . . yes. I have to say, though, these attempts to lay on the dramatic tension haven't really been all that rewarding. It would be one thing if there were any question about who was right or wrong, but in this case Tom is just being an asshole.

And speaking of assholes: Jimmy.

To prevent further disasters, Derek casts Sam as Jimmy's understudy and threatens Jimmy with replacement if things don't start running more smoothly, starting with the big night: a houseful of producers are coming to consider Hit List for a possible move to Broadway.

Bombshell is in PR overdrive because the tickets haven't been selling all that well. One stunt will be Ivy moderating a Q&A between Julia and Tom. Gee, that's going to go well. (And it does. Not. As Tom uses the Q&A as venue for announcing he and Julia are no longer working together.)

Oh, and though Kyle has a boyfriend, he's cheated with Tom. Thrice. Um . . . Since Jimmy brings this up repeatedly, we know he's going to be an ultra jerk later and spill this to Kyle's boyfriend at some point in the episode. (And yes, he does.)

Jimmy screws up some choreography during the show for the producers. It's supposedly nothing the audience would notice, but Derek does, and at one point Karen ends up bruised when Jimmy is supposed to catch her but doesn't. Oops. That seals the deal; Jimmy is out.

And Eileen's little tramp PR woman begins putting nasty bugs in the ears of producers considering Hit List for Broadway. After all, if Hit List moves uptown, Bombshell will have competition.

By the end: Julia and Tom are parted, Ivy is not answering Derek's calls, Jimmy is out of the show and now back to living with his drug-dealing brother, Kyle's boyfriend has walked away upon news of the cheat, and Hit List has no takers for Broadway. Karen lets Derek walk her home. And Kyle gets hit by a car. Whee?

Theatre: Podcast of a Workshop

I just participated in my first ever podcast. Kind of.

What I actually participated in was the workshopping of a 10-minute play, courtesy of Ten Minute Play Workshop (very cool group, btw). And they recorded the workshop and have posted a blog entry and link to the audio. I read one of the roles in the play as well as provide feedback. Apologies in advance if you hate the way I sound.

Truthfully, I can't stand to see or hear myself on video or in recordings. Was always a problem for me when I did Shakespeare and other theatre and people wanted to watch the tapes after. Even home movies . . . I like still photographs just fine, it's the sound of myself that I really dislike, and I'm not fond of watching myself act either.

But! I am pretty excited about having been dragged into modernity by this workshop. Very cool. And the play is a good one, too, one with a lot of potential. So go check it out.


Movies: Django Unchained

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson
Directed By: Quentin Tarantino
Written By: Quentin Tarantino
Columbia, 2012
R; 165 min
4 stars (out of 5)


Tarantino follows Inglourius Basterds with a film of equal entertainment value. In fact, the tone of Django Unchained is almost exactly the same as that of Basterds, with Oscar-winning Waltz playing a very similar capricious role, though in Django he sides with the sympathetic rather than villainous.

I could tell stories of Tarantino, who I met however briefly during my tenure as a film student in Austin.  And I could talk about DiCaprio, who I've never met and yet my friends laughingly call him my "[twin] brother" because a street artist in Rome once drew me and the end result was something that looked remarkably like a female version of dear Leo (please note that he is actually a little older than I am; not sure what that says about how I look and/or the talent of the Italian street artist).

But really, all that need be said is that I enter every Tarantino movie with a sense of apprehension because his films always come with forewarning of how bloody and violent they are. I can't really do gore, don't watch horror films, but I've found that, on the whole, Tarantino's brand of violence doesn't much deter me. It is so over-the-top, and things move so fast, the blood never has time to bother me. Also, the story being told is usually so entertaining that I'm willing to brave the inevitable splatter. (Except Kill Bill bored me, so I wandered off in the middle of that one.)

In any case, I found Django Unchained highly engaging, if a tad too long. The last 20–30 minutes weren't entirely necessary, and I had to wonder at the need to show Zoë Bell but not really use her for anything. But on the flip side, always glad to see a Carradine. Also, Don Johnson and Bruce Dern. (Truthfully that bit with Johnson as Big Daddy and Jonah Hill and the other Bag Heads—that was pretty damn funny, simply for the fact that it was so underplayed while the rest of the movie, in true Tarantino style, was exaggerated and overstimulating.)

Tarantino is not subtle. Not with his violence, nor with his schtick. Waltz's character is Dr. King Schultz, and the "Dr. King" part is what sticks out, for this is a man who treats Django as an equal. He is a personification of civility and civil rights. Kerry Washington plays Broomhilda von Schaft, and once Schultz takes the time to explain the myth of Broomhilda's rescue by Siegfried from a mountain protected by a fire-breathing dragon . . . Well, you see where the story is going.

But as they say, half the fun (if not more) is in how you get there, and in Django Unchained we do have an interesting journey and a satisfying, if predictable, finish.


Screenwriting: 20 August Draft Responses

So I've had some people reading the first draft of the screen version of 20 August. It is, first off, only the first draft. And script reading is a very subjective thing. As with any book or film or bit of music, some people love some things and some people really don't. The game in the media biz is to figure out if enough people will love something to make it worth producing.

Here are the highlights of what I've heard regarding 20 August thus far:

  1. Every reader has really, really liked the dialogue. (I'm good at dialogue. Some people aren't, but I am. Just one of those things. Play to your strengths, right?)
  2. Pretty much every reader has liked the characters.
  3. Most readers think the script should be longer. I get that, but I do have trouble padding things for the sake of padding them. So what I'd want to know (and have yet to hear) is where or how the script should be longer.
  4. One reader thought there should be more humor. I'll admit it's a heavy subject/story, and I do understand the need to cut in with some levity, but . . . I'm afraid if I add too much it'll just seem forced. So I'll have to think about that.
  5. Everyone says it will really come down to who stars and who directs. This is true of any little independent type film, though, isn't it? Hell, it's true of every film, really. But it weighs more in smaller films because you're not distracting the audience with big FX.

I've got a couple other projects to work on before I go back to tinkering with this one (unless/until one of the two producers who have expressed interest in it come poke me with a stick and a contract). Progress has been made. Baby steps. But that's how things go in this industry: a lot of talk before anything actually happens. If it ever does. Which is why you should never pin all you have on just one script or project. Keep swimming.


Television: Elementary, "Dead Man's Switch"

Let me just say: JLM has really hairy arms.

Holmes's AA sponsor Alfredo calls Holmes to help a friend who is being blackmailed. Or rather, his daughter Eva is being blackmailed with the threat of online release of a compromising video, a filming of her rape by a man named Garvey. Charles Augustus Milverton of the Doyle stories turns up as Suspect #1. (Eva was Holmes's client in the story.) Holmes breaks into Milverton's house only to have to hide when Milverton returns—and then witnesses someone shooting Milverton, though of course he cannot see the murderer. Because we're not even to the first commercial break yet.

Holmes goes to see Gregson and explains what has happened, adding that Milverton probably has an accomplice that will release the blackmail materials if he discovers Milverton is dead. He persuades Gregson to keep the information regarding the homicide quiet. Then he and Watson visit Garvey in prison; he's been beat up in the yard by fellow inmates and is laid up in the hospital, and he tells our dauntless duo that he has also been blackmailed by Milverton.

Watson has Milverton's ledger, so she and Holmes comb it for clues. And Alfredo (I like him the more they use him) spots a third-rate lawyer at Milverton's, and the lawyer tells Holmes and Watson the same thing Garvey did—not that he was being blackmailed, but that Milverton spoke of a "failsafe," an accomplice who would disperse info if anything happened to Milverton.

At this point, Gregson is no longer able to sit on the news of Milverton's death because Anthony Pistone is caught trying to dump Milverton's corpse in wet cement. Pistone claims he killed Milverton because Milverton was blackmailing him. Red flag alert: Pistone went the extra mile by damaging Milverton's head/face postmortem. The only reason to do this as a plot point? Pistone of course pleads utter rage, but . . . It's a waste of screen time and dialogue if it doesn't lead somewhere.

And then Eva's dad gets another blackmail demand. So Holmes concludes the accomplice has decided to take over Milverton's business rather than send out the videos.

Holmes identifies Stuart Bloom as a potential associate of Milverton's but he and Watson find Bloom dead in a bathtub so . . .

They figure out from cat litter and boot size that Milverton likely killed Bloom a week before. In any case, Bloom isn't the one to have taken over Milverton's business.

In the midst of all this sleuthing there is much discussion of Holmes's upcoming one-year anniversary of sobriety. Problem: the day everyone thinks is Holmes's anniversary is actually a day earlier than his actual anniversary. He had a tiny relapse in those first 24 hours. And this weighs heavily on Holmes's precise mind. So he tells Watson and then finally tells Alfredo and feels better afterward.

But back to the A Plot. Yes, it was Pistone all along. We knew this from that throw-away bit about smashing the head, right? Pistone had gone after Milverton months before but Milverton had talked him into a cut of the blackmailing money. Bloom had also been an associate of Milverton's, but Pistone had talked Milverton into eliminating his competition. Then Pistone killed Milverton and took over the business. Still, this episode was slightly more engaging than some past ones have been.

And coming up in following weeks: more pursuit of Moriarty. And I've heard that Irene Adler will appear, in flashback, in the form of Natalie Dormer. I'm not especially fond of her as an actress—everything I've seen her do has been very one-note (that is to say I find her Anne Boleyn and that chick on Game of Thrones to be more or less interchangeable)—but maybe she'll surprise me here.

I like surprises.

At least some of the time.


Video: Euphonia

Watch it here.

I do find it interesting that a film about technology dependence does, in turn, depend on technology for dissemination. But then, so do all films these days. So much is Internet word-of-mouth and such.

Anyway, I'm posting this because (a) some of the filmmakers went to Emerson (as did I for grad school), and they asked very nicely for help in getting the word out, and (b) hey, it was at SXSW (and UT Austin was my undergrad school). So it ticks a lot of my personal boxes.

Also, I like to think that when I help other filmmakers, some of that good will come back around to me someday. I don't know if that's strictly true. Sometimes no good deed goes unpunished. But one can hope there's some kind of cosmic justice in the world.

And then again, sometimes I do nice things just because it makes me feel good to do them. Virtue is its own reward?


Television: Revolution, "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia"

Monroe is trying to bully Georgia by sending a nuclear weapon into Atlanta. So Miles & Friends decide they must go to Georgia to find and disarm it.

Rachel and Aaron are looking for a Dr. Jane Warren to help them with The Tower and destroying the nanites. (These had apparently been keeping Danny alive way back when, but they couldn't save him from a bazooka.)

Georgia, as it turns out, has its shit together way more than the Monroe Republic: steam-powered vehicles, a thriving market economy. At this point one has to think it must suck to be born and raised in Monroe. It's like being from a third-world country or something.

At the site of a homicide, Miles finds a knife he recognizes—one that had been his. "Alec," he utters ominously. "He was here." Cue the flashback: Miles giving Alec the family heirloom good-luck knife. (And someone playing "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" in the background.)

Things get ever more Stephen King-like with Aaron and Rachel when two men who attempt to apprehend them spontaneously combust. Well, without the flames. Just sort of a burning up. Thanks to Rachel's old friend Dr. Jane Warren. Who (score!) has sandwiches!

Alec beats the tar out of Miles, then Miles and Charlie chase him around because Alec has the nuke. But Alec sets Miles up to look like he shot and killed a cop, and so Miles is taken into custody and Alec gets away. Meanwhile, Alec tries to get into Charlie's head by making a connection between how Miles treated him and how he'll probably treat Charlie, but Charlie pleads blood ties. At which point Alec says, "You're Rachel Matheson's daughter? Do you know what Miles did to her?" Which is patently and not at all subtly designed to make people want to know what's going on there, but I can't help feeling like it just won't live up to the hype.

And Monroe flies a 'copter over Georgia to drop leaflets before the bomb. "Surrender by midnight or else!" Well, there were more words than that but that was the general idea.

Jane refuses to help Rachel because the nanites are keeping her cancer-ridden girlfriend alive too. But the girlfriend overhears and insists Jane help Rachel. So Jane gives Rachel a binder of information and tells her to get out.

Apparently Alec's big beef with Miles is that Alec got shipped out to Texas and when he came back Miles had left the Militia. (I'm not sure how to feel about the reference to Texas . . . Having lived there a good part of my life, I feel a kind of loyalty, but at the same time, when I imagine what would most likely happen if all the power went out and people were on their own . . . Texas isn't a place I'd necessarily want to be. And that's just the God's honest truth.) Anyway, in an ever-so-predictable turn, Alec and Miles fight over the bomb and Miles kills Alec. The moment might have been touching except we'd only just met Alec and didn't much care about him at all.

And then with a utter lack of sense of timing, as Miles grieves over Alec's death, Charlie demands to know what Miles ever did to her mom. Miles tells her to "get the hell away from" him. I just kind of wish she'd go away for good. She's a serious drag on the show.

And then the President of Georgia (who used to be married to Jack Bauer) offers Miles 200 men and the rank of general. Um . . .


When You Wish . . .

I have been out watching the Lyrid meteor shower. I know they're not really stars, but they are "shooting stars." Shall I tell you what I wished for? No. Because then it won't come true. But I do advise anyone who has the opportunity to go out and observe this lovely sight. And make a wish or two of their own.


Television: Smash, "Opening Night"

Bombshell opens to mostly good reviews—except from the New York Times, whose critique is less than stellar. This may or may not be related to the fact that Eileen treated the Arts Editor (Richard) pretty badly. She dated him and tried to wrap him around her finger, and when he had the temerity to be honest in a write-up wherein he touted Hit List as much or more than Bombshell, Eileen threw a childish I-didn't-get-what-I-want fit. This extends to opening night, where she gives Richard the cold shoulder and more or less severs their relationship. I'm sure the intent is to show Eileen as a strong, career-minded woman, but it's impossible to like her when she's so clearly in the wrong for expecting Richard to put her above his integrity. I understand she feels it wouldn't have cost him anything to say more about Bombshell, but it's the fact she thinks she deserves a say in the matter at all that is grating.

Meanwhile, Tom is on a directing high and begins shooting down all Julia's ideas for what their next project should be. Then he goes to dinner with a producer friend and gets a verbal offer to direct City of Angels. At the same time, Julia fondly remembers her and Tom's first meeting, which included a long lovefest over The Great Gatsby. Upon discovering the rights are lapsed, she sets the lawyers to the task of snapping them up and tells Tom she knows exactly what their next project should be. (It's The Great Gatsby, in case you didn't follow all that.) But Tom tells Julia he's more into directing. Or really, an awkwardly inserted Rosie O'Donnell lets Julia know that Tom will be doing City of Angels next, and when Julia confronts him about it, he tells her he's more into directing. For now. And that she shouldn't wait for him.

And Anna has "the talk" with Karen about Jimmy's string of lies, using Jimmy's brother Adam as Exhibit A. Adam = that drug dealer guy from earlier episodes, now auditioning to be Anna's boyfriend. Karen uses her impeccable timing (actresses need that, you know) to corner Jimmy on Bombshell's opening night and demand an explanation. We get the routine list of excuses: abusive father, life on the streets, Adam leading him astray into dealing and using drugs. Karen is sympathetic, of course, and wants to believe Jimmy truly has changed. But when he gets into a fist fight with Adam at the after party, Karen walks away. And duets with Ivy. And lets it drop that she and Derek have never "hooked up," though Derek had asked her out a couple weeks before. Ivy can apparently do relationship math since she rapidly calculates that Karen's "no" to Derek directly correlates to his turning back up in her bed. So she brushes Derek off, telling him, "I think I'm good for tonight. I'll let you know if I need you again."

During the after party, the reviews begin streaming in, and Tom learns the Times is less than enthusiastic about his direction. Fearing this means he won't get a formal offer to direct City of Angels, Tom tells Julia he'll do Gatsby. But she knows he's only using her as a Plan B and turns him down. Later, Scott tells Julia she should do Gatsby on her own. And at the same time, Scott and Derek begin to plot Hit List's move to Broadway, setting it in direct competition with Bombshell. I wonder if this was meant to be the setup for a third season, should Smash have gotten so far. Alas, we'll never know. But truthfully, there isn't much tension left in the show anyway. Aside from the Tom/Julia split, which really was kind of sad, the rest of the story lines just sort of floated along in predictable little bobs. Watching Smash is now like watching the bulbs of a Broadway theatre sign wink out one by one; you're just waiting for it to go dark.

Television: Doctor Who, "Hide"

Dougray Scott! In a haunted house! (Honestly, my first thought when I see Dougray Scott is still of that episode of Highlander he was in, him drunk and on about Bonnie Prince Charlie, but whatever.)

Oh, and more associations with Sherlock Holmes, if loose, as Scott's character Alec is a member of the Baker Street Irregulars. He's also a major. And owner of the haunted house on the moors. (Baskerville Hall?) The Doctor and Clara turn up and The Doctor uses vague references to "The Ministry" to gain access to the ghost-hunting festivities.

Also in attendance, an empathic psychic named Emma, guest of Alec. (You might recognize the actress from Call the Midwife.)

Alec, of course, is more a man of science, or at the very least likes to cover his bases, and has set up loads of equipment in the entry hall. Stuff to record any potential disturbances.

It seems the house is haunted by a woman, "The Witch of the Well." The Doctor and Clara head for the heart of the house, aka the music room, in search of her. Requisite haunted house moments follow: cold spots, feeling watched, creaky doors and floors, a chalk circle, unexplained knocking, and candles being blown out. Seems extreme when the bottom line message appears to be a simple, "Help me."

The Doctor hits up Alec for some backstory and Clara corners Emma into a heart-to-heart. Alec tells The Doctor how his interest in ghosts and getting away from society stems from having sent people to their deaths while surviving—survivor's guilt, then, one supposes. And Emma and Alec clearly have a spark but Emma doesn't trust her own feelings, or really doesn't trust what she thinks she senses in Alec, afraid she might be projecting. Clara insists it's obvious there's something between them and tells Emma to believe in it. Emma returns the favor by telling Clara not to trust The Doctor. "There's a sliver of ice in his heart."

Okay, so this is a fine idea, but telling isn't showing, and unless Matt Smith can show us this cold spot in The Doctor, unless the writers and directors can find a way to show instead of tell, having a one-off character say it won't make it true.

Clara says the TARDIS doesn't like her. Later it locks her out in The Doctor's absence. But after an "interface" conversation, the TARDIS allows Clara to pilot it (her) to save The Doctor.

The Doctor deduces the ghost is actually a time traveler named Hila caught in a pocket universe. (I wasn't paying complete attention.) He tells Emma that she must save Hila because Emma is "the lantern." They open a portal of sorts and The Doctor goes into the "well" to find and save Hila. He sends Hila back, but Emma is unable to hold the portal open long enough for The Doctor to get through.

Aidan Cook clearly has it going on with Doctor Who this season, having played The Mummy and now The Crooked Man (oooh, more Holmes). Is this just an actor getting a couple good roles in a show, or are these two entities related? The Crooked Man succeeds in making The Doctor afraid, and for a moment there it was nice to see him be something other than his usual self. Smith almost showed some range. But it didn't last very long, and soon The Doctor was taunting The Crooked Man in typical fashion. And here is where the TARDIS and Clara arrive to save him.

Turns out Hila is Emma's some-odd great-granddaughter, hence the strong psychic link. The Doctor also asks Emma if there is anything strange about Clara, but Emma insists Clara is just a normal girl. The Doctor remains unconvinced. For him, Clara is the only mystery worth solving (or something like that).

I do really feel the Sherlock Holmes references have been laid on rather thick. It's as if Moffat & Co are so pleased with themselves with that other show, they must link it to this one. Even the relationship between The Doctor and Clara smacks of what they were trying to do with Sherlock and Irene—a would-be obsession, a mental puzzle designed to test the hero. It wasn't impressive there and it isn't here either. And I'd like to see something new instead of the same story over and over.

A–Z Challenge Reminder

If you've come here looking for my A–Z posts, you're digging in the wrong place (to quote Raiders of the Lost Ark). Visit PepperWords instead. Over there, my characters Peter Stoller and Charles Toulson from the award-winning St. Peter in Chains are doing a tour of the world, one letter and snapshot at a time. Go join them. Put a few pins on your own travel map.


Book Sale

So the award-winning St. Peter in Chains (well, okay, the screenplay won an award, but it was adapted from the novella) is only 99 cents on Amazon today and tomorrow. Go grab it if you haven't already. And then go read the A–Z stories of Peter and Charles's travels over on PepperWords. That way you'll be all set for the sequel when it comes out in June.

And while you're at it, pick up The K-Pro, too, which is also only 99 cents through Friday. The reviews have been great, and it's a really fun little read. (You can also buy this one in paperback, but the 99 cent deal is only for the ebook.)



Screenwriting: Taking Notes, Taking Meetings

Yesterday evening I got the notes back from Mr. Alvaro Rodriguez on my St. Peter in Chains script. They were most very positive, very encouraging. My characterization and dialogue are top notch, it seems. The one thing is how "black" the pages are. If you don't know screenwriting, "black" means there is a lot of narration/action/description on the page. A lot of prose compared to dialogue.

This makes sense, in a way, since I adapted St. Peter in Chains from my novella of the same name. But I totally see the issue/potential problem. If each page of a script is supposed to be roughly a minute of screen time, a prosy script won't hold true. Although Peter is 40 pages, it's probably really only 20–30 minutes of film. (In case you didn't know, it's a short.)

It wasn't always true that scripts were so lean as they are now. Back in the day, it was relatively common to see big blocks of description on the page. So I'll take this note as my script being "old school" or even "classic" in style. They don't make 'em like that any more, though, do they? So I should maybe keep that in mind when writing a screenplay.

And speaking of style, I have to say that I've heard from many producers who've read the Peter script that they do really, really like the style, tone, voice. Then the next words are almost always, "What else have you got?" So just a reminder to all you screenwriters: have more than one at the ready! I've just finished a feature-length (well, I'd say it would be 80–90 minutes filmed), and I'm pleased to say it is much leaner in style than Peter, probably because I adapted this one from one of my stage plays. So I'm starting to circulate that one, since Peter has opened the door for me, and I've actually come to the point where some producers want to meet me. And, like, actually talk and stuff. On the phone, over Skype, and yes . . . The Lunch.

I feel sort of like I've waded into a lake. I was thinking I'd get my toes wet and then, for whatever reason, just kept walking. It's a tad surreal, but I have always enjoyed a good swim. I'm taking it one lap at a time for now. After all, you gotta learn all the strokes before you get to join the team.


Television: Doctor Who, "Cold War"

My first thought was, Shouldn't they be speaking Russian? Truthfully, until The Doctor and TARDIS showed up, it seemed like the dialogue should have been in Russian with English subtitles. It's the little things, you know.

My next thought was, That's the guy from Game of Thrones . . . And that one, too. Just another sign of the incestuous nature of the UK production system. But I won't rant on that again here.

And then: David Warner! Because I love David Warner. He's had a great career, but he'll always be Bob Cratchit to me, first and foremost. Anyway, good to see him; I like reminders that he's still alive.

As for the episode itself . . . I was bored. The utter lack of character development on any side made it impossible to care whether these Russian submariners would survive. (We knew The Doctor and Clara would, of course.) Only David Warner had any spark in that he was given the added depth of being a fan of Duran Duran. I'm sure the juxtaposition of a really old guy loving a "young people's" band was meant to be funny. Like the Barbie and the twine. I didn't find any of these things very amusing, but knowing a character's musical preferences does at least add some color.

The angry Martian story line wasn't terribly interesting or compelling. Neither was The Doctor's speech about mercy, or his threat to destroy the submarine to keep Skaldak from using the nuclear weapons against the world at large. It just wasn't believable; Smith didn't sell it. At no point during the episode did I honestly feel any tension or suspense.

And then, too, I had to wonder why Skaldak bothered to come free of his armor if he was able to break the chains (as he did later). To have better run of the sub? To what end, if in his armor he could have been impervious?

The excuse of the HADS system "upgrade" for the TARDIS' unscheduled departure rang false as well. Just too much of a convenient device.

All told, a weak episode. Looking more forward to the haunted house next week. I do love a good ghost story.


Television: Revolution, "The Song Remains the Same"

Okay, so there's this dark tower . . .

Rachel tells Aaron all about these microscopic computers that absorb electricity and replicate (themselves?) . . . Maybe the writers will finally find a use for Aaron as a computer dude. Aaron thinks so, too, because he wants to go to the tower and help reprogram these tiny nano-whatsis but Rachel won't go because it won't work and it's too dangerous. No story line for you, Aaron!

Neville and Flynn are at odds, each wanting to be Monroe's best friend. (But we all know Monroe's heart remains with Miles.)

And the show could only get rights to old Lionel Richie music.

Our fearless band, meanwhile, takes Neville hostage. Rachel lobbies to execute him, but Miles wants to at least interrogate him first. Problem: Miles isn't actually all that threatening. Just . . . Not scary. And Neville manipulates Miles's temper with amazing ease.

And then Jason (Neville's son if you haven't been keeping track of names) turns up as a new Rebel recruit and wanting to see his dad. Hmm. Conflict of interest?

Rachel attempt to sneak through to see and kill Neville but is confronted by Charlie. "It's only a matter of time before he escapes," Rachel tells Charlie. She's evidently become familiar with the way the writing on this show works. One step forward, two steps back and all that. No progress is ever really made here. Which might be fine if we were at least exploring interesting characters or something, but we're not. The characters are all pretty flat. So . . . Take an interesting premise, stretch it out well beyond the point of interest, and populate it with shallow characters that are difficult to care about . . . And you have Revolution. A real shame since it started with such promise.

Jason goes to see his dad, looking for closure. Neville uses Jason's mother as leverage in order to convince Jason to set him loose. But it turns out Jason was just playing along so Miles could get the information he (and the Rebels) needed.

Monroe sends Flynn out after the absent Neville.

And Neville gets loose, as predicted. And we're back where we started yet again.

Except Neville goes to get his wife and flee Monroe, admitting that Monroe is unstable. And the Rebels discover Monroe has been trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Rachel decides she needs to leave. She wants to get power back for everyone, level the playing field. Hey, Aaron! You've got a gig after all!

And for a long time they've been hinting about some past relationship between Miles and Rachel, but the fact is no one cares. That's the biggest obstacle for this show, at least for me: The writers haven't been able to really make me care, either about the people or the situations they face. I want to, but I can't. They've given me so little to work with. Perhaps venturing outside the Monroe Republic will boost things a bit. From the previews, Georgia makes Monroe look like a third-world country . . .

Television: Smash, "The Dress Rehearsal"

Tom's naked-in-front-of-everyone nightmare presages the "invited" dress rehearsal of Bombshell, which takes place in front of friends and family. Thanks to a laundry list of tech issues during this (including a wardrobe malfunction that leaves Ivy naked onstage), Tom is told he needs to cancel the first night of previews, but he protests. By Tom's reasoning, canceling would only make Bombshell appear more troubled. He has six hours to pull things together, else he must pull the plug on the preview.

Oh, and Derek and Ivy are sleeping together again.

Meanwhile, Jimmy is convinced his relationship with Karen has prodded Derek into cutting back their roles and turning the focus of Hit List more onto Anna as The Diva.

Julia pep talks Derek into seeing Hit List in a new light. After all, now that he's not filtering through Karen and DerekVision(TM), he should be able to see the show clearly, right? But when Derek's new way of seeing things makes Anna the first thing the audience will see (instead of Karen) . . . It seems like Jimmy's prediction has come to pass.

The problem here is that, for Jimmy, every idea is wrong unless it's his own. He wants complete creative control and doesn't know how to compromise. Admittedly, Derek has trouble with cooperation as well, but he's also been a director for a long time, so he's earned more of a right to have things his way. And it's his job as director besides. Smash tries to promote Jimmy as this sort of raw talent/prodigy, but he's really just an obnoxious brat. And I still don't see or feel any chemistry between him and Karen.

Good for Kyle, too, for standing up to Jimmy.

Some of Jimmy's snotty attitude is rubbing off on Karen; she tells Anna that the only reason The Diva has been beefed up is because Derek is punishing her (Karen) for being in a relationship with Jimmy, thus intimating that Anna hasn't earned the promotion by her own talents. Has Derek's muse flown yet again? She seems to hop from one young actress to another . . .

And yet the backstory supports the idea that the role of The Diva was bumped up because The New York Times guy was impressed with that number he saw at the fundraiser a few weeks back. Diving into The Diva has helped flesh out the story of Hit List. And maybe The Diva has a more interesting story, or is a more interesting angle, than whatever romance happens between Jimmy and Karen onstage.

At the end of the day, The New York Times does a compare/contrast of Bombshell and Hit List. The sum total of the write-up is that Bombshell is old school Broadway and Hit List is fresh and new. Oh, and points out how Julia had a hand in both productions. Which sets Tom off. And sends Eileen fussing at her NYT editor boyfriend. (I don't think that's very fair of her, to be upset that he did his job and was honest about it. She'd rather he had no integrity?)

While Bombshell folk spun the article as "Hit List is better than"—and that might well be a valid way to look at it—I'd think that seeing an article talking about two such shows might encourage potential audiences to want to see both and decide for themselves. Will the season end with the two shows going head to head? Does anyone still care? Considering there won't be a third season . . . Does it matter?

Movies: Jurassic Park in IMAX 3D

Jurassic Park is one of my all-time favorite movies. It holds my personal record for films I've seen most often in the cinema at 10 11 times. It's hard for me to believe it's 20 years old, because that means I'm way older than I think or feel.

Actually, the movie came out when I was in high school. I was such a fan that my friends got a kick out of giving me JP gear. Even my journalism teacher gave me a JP coloring book and some die-cast dinos for my birthday that year. (She was the coolest; we went to Star Trek conventions together.) I had shirts, hats, toys, posters, coloring books, puzzles, bedding . . . A little weird for a high school girl, probably, but then I always was unusual. And my kids are now benefitting from my collector's mentality by having lots of awesome toys to play with, stuff you can't find any more.

There's also the fact that I was known as "The Raptor" . . . But that's another story.

Okay, so the movie. Well, it looks its age; not much one can do about that. But it has aged relatively well, too, in that Stan Winston's effects work holds up. And Spielberg, well, he's always been a personal hero of mine, so . . .

You definitely see the hand of the man who made Indiana Jones movies in Jurassic Park. That moment of finding and holding up the amber-encased mosquito. The musical score, particularly in scenes like when the jeeps first pull in to the Visitor Center. Some of the punches are a bit too obvious, like the way they show the besmirched JP logo several times as things go terribly wrong. Yes, we get it: It's a disaster.

But then some of the stuff is just so much fun, too, like "Space Aliens Stole My Face" on the trailer fridge at the Badlands dig. I love the scene with the car in the tree. And the movie is just so damn quotable. A lot of Spielberg movies seem to be, so I don't think it's so much the writing as the directing. Spielberg gets great work out of his actors, and he knows how to use film as a medium to make memories. Because that's what a film quote is: Something memorable that you not only carry away from the film but eventually incorporate into your everyday life. How amazing is that, when you think about it? That a well-delivered line can become part of a person's personal shorthand?

I don't know that the movie needed the 3D treatment. You'd think something like Jurassic Park would be awesome in 3D, and some scenes were, but the rest . . . ::shrug:: Of course, as regular readers know, I'm no big fan of the 3D push. But this one gave me less of a headache than some others have done. And if you're going to see it in 3D, you might as well see it in IMAX. Pretty awesome to see Waldo (the T-Rex) lording it on the really big screen.

Look, my love for this film clearly biases me from being able to make an objective review. But let's just say that, if I was a little worried I'd walk away disillusioned, I needn't have been. Seeing it in the cinema again only reaffirmed my love for Jurassic Park. It is a classic.


My Concerns Over Rumors About the Forthcoming Season of American Horror Story

I hear it may be set in New Orleans.

I hear there may be Voodoo involved. Which would make sense if it's set in New Orleans.

I'm not going to get into my personal background, but let's say that I'm from that area and have some reservations about the cultural stereotypes that a show like American Horror Story is likely to promote. I will be very, very disappointed if they misrepresent my culture, either the people or religious underpinnings.

I realize, of course, that AHS is hardly realistic, nor is it trying or claiming to be. A show like that—hell, most horror—capitalizes on the misunderstandings of things like Catholicism and (now, possibly) Voodoo. It takes what people think they know, those stereotypes and old tales, and uses it as shorthand to draw people into the story. So I can't and won't be surprised if AHS plays such a hand here.

But I don't have to like it.

People sometimes call and ask me to meet them in New Orleans and show them around, and I'm happy to do it. But I often have to ask, "Do you want a tourist experience or an authentic experience?" Because, hey, even natives capitalize on the misperceptions of our culture. The difference here being that the culture sustains itself through such tourism. They benefit from it.

And you could argue that it will benefit from a display by AHS as well. If they actually film in New Orleans, that's money for the city. If the show prompts interest in people to visit, that's more money coming in. And that's good, it's fine. But if it intentionally misleads viewers, or causes a backlash against our culture and/or belief systems, that is not fine. So here's hoping they treat the subject matter with at least a little respect.


Television: Mad Men, "The Doorway"

Okay, so after having skipped out on most of last season (I think I watched four episodes before wandering off out of sheer boredom), I thought I'd try tuning back in for the sixth season premiere. I'd read about had been happening, so I wasn't lost or anything. But I continued to be bored.

At the start of the episode, Dan Draper and wife Megan are vacationing in Hawaii. This stretched-out opening is like being forced to watch someone's vacation home movies. While I understand the need to maybe show Don as an old fuddy next to his young, up-and-coming actress wife (and later we would see him losing his touch), it didn't require quite so much footage.

It was about this time I quit paying very close attention. Peggy was fielding a crisis with an account where she works now, Roger's mother died (and Don puked at the funeral), Betty was going to lengths to look after some girl named Sandy who plays violin . . . Oh, but then Roger's shoe shine guy died, too, and that's when he broke down. John Slattery continues to be the best thing about the show, the only character with anything very interesting happening. He tells his shrink how nothing in life changes, or at least nothing in life changes him, and it's true. He stands inside a circle of chaos. People die around him and he's just Roger. Until the moment the shoe shine kid's family sends Roger the shine kit. Apparently that was Roger's breaking point.

The episode punched up the whole mortality angle with heart attacks and doctors and deaths and such.

And Don? He goes back to his old tricks, cheating on Megan with a friend's wife. It did give me pause to consider the dynamic of Don's and Megan's relationship. She is the career woman, the rising star. Is cheating the way Don reasserts himself?  Not that this excuses him. And it might just as easily be that old habits die hard, or that Don gets bored when saddled with a domestic situation.

In truth, though, I found the whole thing something of a drag. Like last season, I'll probably try a couple more episodes, but if it can't hold my interest, I'll be hopping into bed with other shows instead.


Random Associations

Do you ever link two things in your mind in some inexplicable way? Well, usually there is an explanation. Maybe they are two things you encountered or learned around the same time. Maybe you saw a movie and heard a song around the same time and so that movie and song are forever bonded in your brain, even though the song was never featured in the movie and has nothing really to do with it. You hear the song and think of the movie anyway.

Like, for me, this painting by Caspar David Friedrich is forever linked to Frankenstein. I have this idea the image was used on the cover of one of my high school literature textbooks and some excerpt of Frankenstein was inside and now these things have become co-mingled in my mind. Which is pretty impressive since I've never read any of Frankenstein, not even the excerpt from my lit text. But I had an interest in Byron, and I naturally associate him with Frankenstein, and I had this vague idea the man in the painting might look a bit like Byron, or dress like him anyway, and . . . Well. There you have it.

Not sure what made me think of that today, though. Brains are funny things.


Books: The Heavy and the Light

I have a terrible habit of starting books and then abandoning them for long periods of time before going back to finish them. Sometimes this is because I get busy, but a lot of times it's because the book isn't the right "weight" for how I'm feeling at any given time.

I'm moody, maybe, and easily affected by the weather and the seasons. The kind of thing I'll read on a plane might not be the same kind of thing I'll read in a hotel room. What I want to read while sitting out on my deck is different from what I want when soaking in a bubble bath (yes, I read in the bath). So I end up with a stack of two to four books that I'm working through at any given time. And my Goodreads profile looks like a scattering of literary orphans.

Some months ago, for example, I started Smiley's People. I'm more than halfway done but kind of got bored with the story (which is strange, since I also think it's better than some of the others I've read in this series) and decided to pick up The Dante Club. I've been really enjoying that one, but it's a bit gruesome and gives me really strange dreams if I read it right before bed, so . . .

Okay, time out. Let me take a moment to explain this other of my habits. I really like Regency romance novels. A lot of romance publishers don't even have Regency lines any more, they just lump them in with "historical fiction" nowadays, but for a long time Regencies were popular enough to have their own branding. So every now and then I'll go on eBay and find some huge lot of old Regency romance paperbacks and buy it. Because I like having these kinds of light fare on reserve. These books are good for a quick read, for sitting outside in the sun, &c. And I know they won't give me nightmares before bed!

So anyway, at this point I went to my box of reserves and drew out two titles: A Perfect Arrangement by Ellen Rawlings (Diamond, September 1992) and Kenton's Countess by Janeane Jordan (Harlequin Regency, June 1992). Both equally silly and just the right kind of thing for quick snatches of time and/or breaks between writing and laundry and dealing with the children.

They say if you've read one Regency romance you've read them all, but I think you'd need to read about four to get a full picture of the possibilities. There are the ones that take place entirely in the country, the ones that take place entirely in London, those that start in the country and move to London, and those that start in London and "retire" to the country. Then there are ones where the girl's family has a lot of money and others where the girl's family is genteel but poor. (The men are pretty much always wealthy.) It's common to have spiteful siblings and/or a deceased parent. And a lot of time is spent describing people clothes, their hair, their horses and carriages (curricles, phaetons, and so forth). I once started to write a Regency romance myself but never finished it. Maybe I should dig that old project up . . .

The Dante Club is a historical of another stripe, seeing as it is set in Boston shortly after the end of the Civil War and features as its main characters very real historical figures. I've read bits and pieces of Dante, am pretty sure I was supposed to read all of it at one point (what with a minor in Classical history, which included Milton and Orlando and Spencer's The Faerie Queene among other things—none of which I read all the way through, though I've happily read Homer, Ovid and Virgil many times over, as well as any number of the Greek and Roman historians) . . . We have some Doré prints from Dante and Milton, in fact; they hang in the guest bath to keep anyone from lingering too long.

But anyway, The Dante Club doesn't really require a working knowledge of Dante; the author does a nice enough job of filling the reader in without it being too obvious. Still, I have the feeling I might be having more fun with the story if I did know Dante. It is, in short, a literary murder mystery, somewhat graphic in its details of the murders being committed. I'm sure I'll get back to the book sooner or later, since I am at least curious about how it end (don't tell me!).

And as for Smiley, well, I'll come back around to him too at some point. His is not really summer fare, but maybe come fall or winter . . . When the sky lowers and the days grow heavy, that's when I feel the need to pick up the weightier books, as if I were a librarian squirrel laying away a stash in preparation for colder days. But for now I'll enjoy the sun. And the semi-ridiculous tales of Regency misses and their handsome, aristocratic suitors.


Television: Doctor Who, "The Rings of Akhaten"

While solid enough a story in theory (a grouping of seven planets comes together regularly for a festival and to offer a sacrifice to its god, and of course The Doctor and his new companion needs must stop the little girl from being "eaten" by said god), a lack of emotional connection to the characters left me feeling cold.

"The Rings of Akhaten" (not to be confused with the Pharaoh Akhenaten) begins with The Doctor dropping in on key moments in Clara's development, starting with the moment her parents meet, which explains the leaf she keeps in her book. We see young Clara kick a ball at The Doctor, we see her mourn her mother's passing. Maybe this is supposed to engender some kind of feeling for her, but . . . No. She remains more a cipher than a person. Even The Doctor can't make sense of her since she should be "impossible" (because she's already lived . . . twice?).

Fixated much?

Anyway, Clara has evidently agreed to travel a bit with The Doctor and he takes her to the titled Rings of Akhaten. And then the whole plot about the festival and the singing and the sacrifice to the ancient "god" which really just wakes up periodically to feast on . . . Memories? Experiences? Things sort of fall apart at this point because the god (which is more like the sun—makes sense, if this is a pseudo-Egyptian thing, but shows that despite all his experience The Doctor doesn't know s*** about history if he first thinks they're worshiping a mummy instead of said sun) sucks up a bunch of stuff from The Doctor (was it, like, licking him or something?), but somehow that fails to satisfy it. And The Doctor survives, which is weird since normally this sort of interaction is fatal for the sacrifices. And then Clara gives the god her special leaf and the god, now a cross between a sun and a jack-o-lantern, implodes. (Note that the leaf is destroyed in this interaction.)

I guess we're supposed to take away from all this the idea that Clara is a good person because she's moved to help the little girl and also willing to give up some of her most treasured possessions to do so, and to save The Doctor and this foreign world. Though one has to question what those beings are going to do without their sun. Maybe the sacrifice of one person every so often was worth it for light and heat and stuff.

Laid on particularly thick was the argument against creationism/religion. The Doctor starts by saying this world's belief system is "a nice story" and is happy to attend the festival but changes his tune when he discovers their tradition runs to human sacrifice. Then he lectures the little girl on the Big Bang Theory and tells her how she's made of elements . . . Look, I'm no religious fanatic but this particular stripe of ideology drew a lot of attention to itself. It was like a speech to a would-be suicide bomber or something.

For me, the show has lost something the past couple episodes. It feels like it's spinning its wheels. If the intention is a "slow build" between The Doctor and Clara, or to the bigger plot of who or what Clara really is, this is too slow. At the very least, they need to make me care. What's at stake? This Great Intelligence . . . Is that going anywhere? So far it doesn't seem to be very ominous.

Truthfully, for Doctor Who the world or the universe always seems to be at stake. But how often can you do that and make it compelling? So it needs to be something else this time. Maybe The Doctor's very sanity as he tries to sort out this whole Clara thing. (What if he comes to really care for her only to realize he must sacrifice her for the good of the larger population? See, I can do this off the top of my head. Step it up, boys. Or else get a girl like me to do it for you.)

Television: Smash, "The Surprise Party"

Ivy and Tom are fighting because Ivy is angry he cast her mother. In addition, it is Ivy's birthday, and she's planning a party with her castmates—no Tom allowed.

Tom has conveniently forgotten it's Ivy's birthday until some flowers arrive for her. In an attempt to win her over, Tom phones Liza Minnelli.

And over at Hit List, Jimmy and Karen continue to sneak around, making out in the wardrobe room. Richard (that Times Arts editor guy) has dropped in, in the hopes of getting a story.

I have to say, Smash really seems to be reaching in order to find dramatic story lines. And the songs they keep piling on Hit List are of the generic, pop-radio sort. Are they hoping for actual airplay? Or just planning ahead for the release of the season's soundtrack? After all, these songs will have broader appeal than the Broadway sounds of Bombshell (which have mostly already been put out for consumption anyway).

Scott and Julia corner Kyle into reworking the sequence of scenes in Hit List. Ivy is bored to tears at dinner with Tom until Liza turns up. But Eileen has used this as a photo op to boost Bombshell's buzz, which almost breaks Tom and Ivy up again, and loses Eileen her date with Richard . . . And then Tom and Liza duet on a song Tom has written for Ivy's birthday. (Which in turn seems like a stunt to boost Smash's ratings. But one can't really fault them for it. Not like shows don't do it all the time.)

Karen tells Jimmy she doesn't want to do it in the closet. Or keep their relationship in the dark. Or something. Then she has a heart-to-heart with Derek and admits she's "kind of" seeing Jimmy.

Ivy escapes to her other birthday party (the one with her castmates) and Tom follows because the show's writers have used the fantastic old trope of Ivy having left behind her keys and Tom needing to return them. And by "fantastic" I mean really, really weak. Also, is Smash written by a bunch of pre-teen girls? Are we really using someone being left out of a party as a serious plot point?

Oh, and Karen gets mad at Jimmy when she realizes all their sneaking around was because he couldn't stand up to Derek.

And Kyle presents the revised Hit List to Derek. Who is pleased, though a lot of that is possibly derived from the idea that Karen's and Jimmy's roles will be reduced to accommodate more of Anna as "The Diva." Spiteful. But also one of the only interesting bits of emotional motivation in the entire episode. Derek, while not always likable, is in many ways the most complex character on the show, which makes him the most interesting. And episodes that feature little of him are thereby some of the least interesting.

Jimmy goes to apologize to Karen and they make up. And then she finds that baggie of drugs from a couple weeks ago. So . . . Yeah.

I am starting to wonder why I'm still watching this show. I find I care very little about the characters any more because their goals have more or less been met: Karen and Ivy are both starring in productions, and their relationship issues are not compelling. The obstacles the productions face are vague and amorphous. So maybe it's just as well Smash is ending as it seems to have lost its own clear drive.


Movies: Room 237

In this documentary, various narrators theorize over hidden meanings in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. The viewer never sees the faces of these speakers; instead, visual interest is added by using not only clips from The Shining (to illustrate the points being made) but also other Kubrick films and even old newsreels and cartoons as well.

As someone with a degree in radio-television-film and cultural communication, I always get a kick out of reading/hearing/seeing someone deconstruct something. I like being given these kinds of things to think about. I like having these kinds of things to discuss with others. That's my idea of a fun night (sad but true): a group of people at a dinner table, hashing out a book or movie or whatever. So Room 237 is a home version of this, and on that score I enjoyed watching it.

Of course, I do have to wonder why some people (people not in the industry or academia, you know, just the average person) feel compelled to take something like The Shining apart. But then, I suppose I'm not the only person in the world who finds it amusing to do so. And yet, after being forced to do it for so many years, I seldom take the initiative to break down a film so thoroughly as these people do The Shining. I have other things to do; maybe they don't. They've clearly watched the film repeatedly, whereas I've only managed to sit through it once.

Honestly, I'm no big fan of Kubrick, though I can admire and concede his talent. I found The Shining incredibly boring, but if what these narrators say is true, I should have been paying better attention. The theorists, however, come off as a bit obsessive. They all appear to be fans not only of The Shining but of Kubrick in general, and one has to then view their hypotheses through that bias. They are not passive observers; they have something to prove, whether it be that their specific theories are "correct" and somehow provable, or that Kubrick was a genius and worthy of all the admiration they've bestowed on him, or that repeated viewings of The Shining are not a waste of time and there really is something to be drawn out of the text.

One narrator discusses The Shining as an allegory for Colonization and the mass murder of the Native Americans. Another sees the film as being about the Holocaust. Yet another is fixated on the spacial relations in the house (she's made a map of the hotel as represented in the film); there's also discussion of the labyrinth. And of course there's a whole sex subtext—though if you've seen The Shining, you know a lot of the sex stuff isn't all that subtle. But the really amazing idea, I have to say, is the one that Kubrick hid clues throughout the film to let people know he helped the government fake the moon landing. Wow.

Here's the thing. I absolutely believe that Kubrick was the kind of guy to hide clues in his films. He was a very deliberate kind of filmmaker. He had a strong belief in cinema as a message, and he put those little messages in his work, like a children's book with hidden pictures. Kubrick was interested in the way the mind works: subliminal messages, dreams, conscious versus subconscious. What is seen and not seen, what is seen but doesn't register . . . Maybe that alone is a good reason to watch his films a few times over (if you can stand to, which I cannot).

But then we get into "author intent." We get into "encoding" and "decoding" of text. Is it really in there? Did he really mean that? And does it matter if he did? What people take away from a book or a movie or even a song . . . That is the bottom line. That is all that matters. If a writer or director wants to get a very specific point across, he had best be clear about it. Otherwise, if he relies on the audience to decode something very subtle, he may fail in getting his message to them at all. A few may "get it," but more may not.

This isn't to say one should beat one's viewer or reader over the head with something. But themes, if important to the creator, should be clear so that those engaging with the text can find them.

Unless, of course, Kubrick only put these things in to satisfy himself. Or to test his audiences.

I'd say he may not have realized it at all, that it may all have been subconscious on his part, but I believe Kubrick was a careful enough filmmaker not to have had that happen (much). For me, as a writer, I often don't realize my themes or through lines until after I've finished something; even then, sometimes someone has to point them out to me and ask, "Did you mean . . .?" But unlike Kubrick, I'm also not trying to be Freudian about anything. I just like playing with characters, setting them up and seeing what they do in different situations.

I'm getting off topic here, but you surely get the gist. At any rate, Room 237 is an interesting documentary, if only to show how deep down the rabbit hole one can go if one is willing to take that plunge. And yet . . . There's the sense, too, that some of these narrators are really reaching, striving to prove their points. I won't say any of the arguments are invalid—it's all subjective and who am I to judge?—but some at least seem to sit on firmer ground than others.

Still, Room 237 is a great potential starting point for longer, deeper discussions. Turn it into a home game with some friends: Pick a movie and then "Room 237" it by having everyone come up with some crazy theory. (Note: You may have to give everyone a week or so to research and/or re-view the film in question. Kind of like a book club. But it would be a "Room 237" film deconstruction club. Hey . . . Did I just make a "thing"? Cool.)

Ah, but did Kubrick diss Stephen King by showing that red Volkswagen crushed by a semi? Discuss!

Less Mad at You, Variety

Still hate your site, but enjoying the new format of my weekly mailing. It's too large for my bookshelves, but other than that, nicely done.


Television: Elementary, "Snow Angels"

Nor'easter is coming. Homicide at a skyscraper housing a tech company. And an unexpected houseguest at the brownstone. (Miss Hudson? Really? Except, biologically, she's a he.)

The theft of an upgraded model phone doesn't much interest Holmes until all the power in the city goes out. The phones were a red herring anyway; pretty quickly it's determined the phones were discarded by the thieves when a bum is found selling them on the street. Further investigation of the building suggests it was actually an architectural firm that was the true target for the break-in.

Miss Hudson's most recent lover comes to call in the hopes of winning her back. (Apparently Holmes has called for Hudson's knowledge of ancient Greek several times in his work, which is why she came to him when ousted by her "protector.")

Perusal of the architectural plans (the ones that show contact) lead Holmes to EROC. Turns out $33m that was supposed to be shredded has instead been stolen, with fake paper shredded in its place.

Taking a page from Holmes, Detective Bell hunts up one of the perpetrators at a local hospital, and he and Gregson hold their own stripping down her false identity and turning her over. Unfortunately they—and surprisingly Holmes as well—forget how clever the whole plan has thus far been and somehow believe the information on the bad French woman's phone is truly indicative of . . . something. Which prompts a sting that goes bust. (It's either that the information on the phone was meant to be misleading, or else the writers also somehow forgot these people were supposed to be clever . . .)

Miss Hudson makes herself useful by cleaning up. Housekeeper anyone?

As per usual, someone introduced early and briefly becomes a key player: the FEMA supervisor comes under suspicion of having facilitated the getaway for the money. They set her up to attempt to free the bad French lady (whose name is Elle, but I like calling her that), and she falls for it. Case closed. Bad French lady turns on her cohorts, the money is retrieved, and Miss Hudson is hired to clean on a regular basis.

On the whole, not a terribly enterprising episode. But a few nice call-outs: Bell's and Gregson's growing ability to use some of Holmes's methods; the introduction of Miss Hudson; and the subtle showing of Holmes's generosity (paired with a glimpse of what was likely a privileged upbringing) as he uses money to simultaneously help people and get what he wants. Also, a cameo by Clyde the Tortoise.

What the episode lacked was more of the banter between Holmes and Watson. Now that they've moved into mentor/protegeé territory, things are in some ways less compelling. Though they do occasionally spat, Holmes and Watson are now more comfortable with one another, and yet Watson's grudging subservience as Holmes attempts to teach her fails to be as interesting or entertaining as when she was the one responsible for him. I'm hoping this is just a phase and the writers will find some way to up the ante soon.

Scripting, Part II

So I've finished the first draft of that script I mentioned a couple times before. I've sent it to one director/producer who is interested and it's also on the Black List for others to look at.

And now there are some other production companies interested in turning one of my short plays into a short film, so I may get around to adapting that for screen too. But for now I'm doing the A–Z Challenge over on PepperWords and planning to finish the sequel to St. Peter in Chains.


Television: Smash, "The Parents"

Tonight on Smash: Karen's Dad and Ivy's Mom!

After having Jimmy stay over, Karen's dad turns up unexpectedly and Jimmy goes out the window. Literally.

And Ivy's mother has been cast in Bombshell. As Marilyn's mother.

Hit List continues down the road of weird performance art piece masquerading as a musical . . . Okay, I'll just admit it isn't my kind of theatre. At least based on what I've seen. It's hard to tell from the bits and pieces.

Except I did like Rent when I saw it. So . . . I don't know. If Hit List is trying to be Rent . . .

Jimmy, meanwhile, also continues down the road of being utterly obnoxious by (a) worrying that Karen will tell other people they slept together (thus setting off Derek), and (b) having a dealer he stole money from turn up at rehearsals.

Ivy and her mom try to play nice but Tom urges them toward their hidden bitterness as he tries to get them to perform a scene in which Marilyn and her mother fight.

And Karen's dad accuses Derek of ruining his daughter's career by yanking her off Broadway and dragging her into a basement version of Cirque du Soleil. (Okay, he didn't say the Cirque du Soleil part, but really, that's what Hit List has become.) Karen's dad makes a pointed observation of Derek's jacket and a comment about going out the window, much to Derek's bewilderment.

Derek finds Jimmy going through people's coats in search of loose change (or full wallets) because there are no couches where they are. Jimmy then spills the story of how he needs $8,000 to pay back his ex-dealer. Derek offers to spot Jimmy the cash. Problem solved. Wow. What a story line that wasn't really a story line. It's like they felt they needed to bring in the drug story some more but didn't want to risk making Jimmy any more unlikeable than he already is.

Oh, and while playing in the coat room, we see that Derek and Jimmy have almost identical jackets. Something Karen's dad notices as well, motivating him to revise his hypothesis.

And Eileen starts dating the Arts editor from the paper.

Then we're forced to listen to Bernadette Peters sing. Which isn't normally a problem, but the song itself is awful and interminable.

Karen's dad spills it to Derek by mentioning that it wasn't Derek he saw with his daughter . . .

. . . And Scott asks Julia to be dramaturg for Hit List because, after such great response, Anna's role needs to be cranked up.

Plus, Jimmy pays off his ex-dealer but doesn't say no to a little something for the road. We also learn that Collins is probably not Jimmy's real surname. If that matters. Or we even care. Which I don't. Because I find all attempts to make Jimmy interesting or sympathetic to be hollow, forced, and trite.

And don't forget, viewers, that the next episode is on Saturday, which will be Smash's new night. Like Karen, it has gone from the bright lights of Broadway to the dim bulbs of what amounts to the basement of weekly television.


Television: Revolution, "Ghosts"

I've realized I'm, like, the Mr. Cranky of television reviewers. I'm difficult to please. I don't mean to be. It would be fair of you to ask, "Then why do you watch it, if you hate it so much?" But I don't hate it. Not Revolution, nor any of the other shows I watch. Life's too short to waste time on bad TV.

There's not much really great television out there. There are good shows, and there are shows that are sometimes good and sometimes not . . . Then there are shows where I feel there's potential, and I watch them in the hopes they will eventually fulfill that potential. Revolution is one of those shows.

My problem is, I have a hard time determining when to give up and let go. When do I pull the plug on the life support? For Revolution, I'll probably at least see out the season. Maybe they'll have some great cliffhanger that compels me to return. Or maybe I'll just wander off.

Anyway, "Ghosts" has Miles vowing to help the rebels bring down Monroe. He and Nora take off while Rachel and Charlie are left with other rebels to be awkward with each other. After all, Charlie hasn't had a real mom in a long time; how should Rachel re-assert her parental authority when she doesn't want Charlie to go off on a raid?

Miles and Nora visit the Stephen King wing of the library in Culpeper, Virginia, as they search for Jim Hudson. Turns out he's remade himself into a librarian named Henry. Jim/Henry had once helped Miles attempt to assassinate Monroe, but you can see how that turned out. So Miles tells Jim he wants to finish the job.

Randall Flagg Flynn descends on the rebel camp where Charlie and Rachel are staying; he's been tracking the pendants. (Then why didn't he collect them a long time ago?) Rachel destroys the flash drives inside the pendants to prevent Randall and Monroe making use of them.

Backstory for Randall attempts to give him a reason for wanting to have this blackout weapon: his soldier son was killed in Kabul. But this doesn't really make him any more sympathetic a character. I think it's the actor; Colm Feore is just too mean looking to feel sorry for.

A kill squad of Monroe's men enter Culpeper in search of Miles, Nora, and Jim. Hilarity Violence ensues. Guy on the horse just kinda sits there, though, until Jim gives away the location of his wife—which happens to be a very visible window.

Look, I have a degree in radio-television-film. But even before college I had watched enough movies and TV shows to be able to take them apart. The reason I write about the flaws in these things is because there's more to say about where things go wrong than when they go right. An example follows.

Regarding something I really like: "Wow! This is a great show/movie!"

Regarding something I have mixed feelings about: "Well, some of it is good but . . . [list of things that aren't so good]."

Statistics show that people are more likely to review something (a book, a show, a restaurant) if they don't like it or had a bad experience with it than if they do like it. Because when something goes wrong, there's more to be said. There's a story there. No one watches a TV show about a bunch of people who are completely happy and have no problems. That would be boring. And a review about a show that's perfect would be just as dull.

So if I come off harsh or negative, keep in mind that I'm picking out the flaws because that's where the points of discussion lie. Not because I'm "down on" a show or movie or whatever. Anything I take the time to watch, and the additional time to write about besides, I at least like a little.

Television: Community

I was late to this party, only started watching this show a few months ago. Now I've been catching up on Hulu and although the first few episodes didn't win me over, the more I watch, the more I really love this show.

With 30 Rock gone and The Office and Modern Family no longer very funny, Community fills my need for laughs. It is amazingly well written and Joel McHale does some of the best acting on television. But really, the whole ensemble is great. While I don't entirely buy all the romantic shenanigans, it's easy enough to bypass those and enjoy the rest of the show. (Thank goodness romance is not the core of this program—it's not Friends, after all; it's better than that.)

Community seems to be on the bubble over whether it will manage to finagle another season, though I'm hoping for at least another half season. Right now it really is the funniest thing on network television, and probably one of the cleverest too. Very refreshing to watch this show when so many others seem stuck in their ruts.