Saturday, 13 February 2010

What I've been watching - Television

26EB8E6A-10A6-4CA7-97D9-9CF6D356A57C.jpgDollhouse (Season 2)
Spoilers for seasons 1 & 2 ahead
Dollhouse's second and final season finished at the end of January. For those of you who don't know, it comes from creator Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel, Firefly), and stars Eliza Dushku as a 'doll' who can be imprinted with different personalities, depending of the needs of the Dollhouse's clients.

At least, that was the premise of the first season. However, the second season was clearly what Whedon had in mind when he created the show. Instead of having to feel morally tangled about spending time with characters responsible for human trafficking, we can actually start to support Echo's mission to take down the Dollhouse from the inside.

The season itself soars through a combination of tightly constructed storylines, and characters you become more invested in each week. Like all of Whedon's shows, most of the joy is not in the actual plotline of a particular episode, but merely in spending time with 'people' who's fates you really care about.

5BADB986-8BF0-4186-BB88-2674B645168A.jpgYou see, both the strength and weakness of Whedon's shows are that it takes time to become invested in them. Like real people, it's unlikely that you'll hit it off straight away, however, by spending time together, you begin to appreciate and warm to them more. Unlike shows such as 24 and CSI, where the history of a character isn't actually that important unless it has an explicit link to this week's storyline, in Whedon's narratives it's the implicit links that make the show worth watching. The week when Adelle gave Victor her ideal personality, plays into all the conversations she has with him from then on, regardless of his current personality; A remote wipe in the show's fourth episode seems like a plot device, but turns out to have ramifications that last for the show's entire run.

The idea of how memories affect our personalities is incredibly important to the show's story. Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that Dollhouse is a show which never forgets. Every line, action and plot point, no matter how indiscriminate it may seem at the time, can later be picked up. Perhaps this is why it appealed to so few people: after all isn't television like The Dollhouse's 'chair': designed so we can sit down, switch our brains off and be at peace?

F31719AF-EAC4-47B2-A983-2102AB39E537.jpgCharlie Brooker's Newswipe
Newswipe is surely The Daily Show of British television: holding a mirror up to the UK media, and making fun of it in an insightful way. Unlike 'The Daily Show', which is political satire disguised as comedy, Newswipe has no such pretensions, often allowing ten minute features from contributors with little to no comic slant.

In many ways it's a series of academic articles interspersed with flashing titles, and Brooker making fun of news anchors and celebrities. Despite Brooker's best efforts to make it as funny and accessible as possible, there's no denying his entirely serious and important mantra: the news is biased. It's bias because news is a product: a product like Coca-Cola, Carlsberg and Dyson. And as such it needs to be sold and marketed correctly. News has become more like advertisements, telling people either what they would most like to hear or, ironically, what they would least like to hear: so long as it provokes a reaction. The worst news is boring news, regardless of its truth.

This mantra can clearly be seen in the 'serious' pieces that occur about half-way through Newswipe. Pieces that tell us about why narratives are important in news, why journalists like to keep us afraid, and why news is only important so long as people are talking about it.

73739066-A42E-4E21-B194-100CC701F472.jpgIn the latest episode, Brooker looks at the coverage of Blair's turn to give evidence in the Iraq enquiry. He points out we learnt precisely nothing new about why we went to war. Then again what should we expect? Despite this, whole days were given to stations like Radio 5 to cover this event. An event, the BBC (and all other news organisations) had clearly already decided their opinion on (cf. Hutton enquiry).

Speaking personally here, perhaps enquiries like this show us just how prevalent 'Trial by Media' has become. Regardless of what truth we discover from the months of questioning we've seen senior politicians and aides undergo, everyone has already made up their mind. Most of the media say he's guilty, and no lengthy enquiry is going to change their minds. Like Hutton, they will merely call into question the validity of the enquiry, and point out their own brilliance at uncovering truth. Truth that's seemingly as clear-cut as Blair=Liar. Am I the only one who thinks it's more complex than that?

Newswipe matters because it's able to point out the inconsistencies in news coverage. However, until someone comes up with a different way of portraying news, so that it's interest is second to it's truth and importance, it may remain a lone voice on the hill.

3C382C4F-1227-4EE8-8171-CF0CD8B2645C.jpgThe Wire (Season 5)
Speaking of the media, I just finished the Wire's final season, who's theme is precisely that. In it they deal with the slow death of the local newspaper; America's obsession with serial killers; and lies so big you no choice but to believe them.

Like all the seasons of The Wire, this one is incredibly tight and well-written. In fact it's a bit pointless to wax lyrical about what makes the show so good, since so many people have done so already. If you haven't see it yet, go and procure a copy of season 1 now and settle into what is quite a ride.

The Wire is among my favourite shows on television because of its ability to allow me to see things in different ways. By giving you a detailed look at how drug dealers, addicts, the police, and journalists live and survive you can entirely understand why they make the decisions they do. Except on those ever so rare occasions when the show succumbs to pressure to tell a story more important than the characters it portrays. In a show which prides itself on realism, any storylines which feel forced stick out like a sore thumb. For me there are two such occasions when this happens, the first is season three's Hamsterdam. The second occurs in season five.

F692DAE2-0050-4472-82E1-3E686B02FE20.jpgSpoilers for Season 5 from now on
McNulty's decision to fake murders fits in with the renegade part of his personality that would do anything for a case, but nevertheless felt forced to me. Aside from his decision to give up his stability to rejoin a case, I didn't actually believe he was that invested in wanting to bring down Marlo (unlike Freamon, who's actions I buy entirely). There may be many good reasons for this to fit with what we've seen, but I can't think of them. McNulty's problem has always been with those in authority, and he gets a real kick out of getting one over those with more power than he. He "gives a f*** when it's not his turn", as Bunk would say. Nevertheless, I do feel like he has a conscience (something we see at the end of the season). Doesn't he care about the families of the 'victims' he's manipulating; or the people who's careers he's putting on the line to get his own way? McNulty's actions as a detective up until now have always been at the expense of people unwilling to make tough choices. In season five we see a character inconsistent with that way of working.

Despite this misstep, the rest of the season is as brilliant as ever. The introduction of the media fitting in perfectly with the world the show's creators have taken four seasons to create. Bubble's arc gave us some much needed hope, while Dookie's gave us an insight into how Bub's addiction may have started. Senator Davis' arc showed us how in a democracy, having the public on your side can become more important than truth. Finally, Mayor Carcetti's arc showed us how the best of intentions can soon subside when the allure of power is near. His arc in particular fitting into the Wire's strong idea that be successful at your job always seems to be doing what those in power tell you to do, regardless of its impact on those you are supposed to be serving. The Wire's self-proclaimed 'critique of modern capitalism' will live on long after its end. It works because it asks all the right questions, and forces audiences to consider for themselves what the right answers are. That, and Omar is a badass.

1 comment:

  1. The Wire and Newswipe are two of the best shows on telly. I totally agree about newswipe providing the refreshing honesty rather than the "trial by media" approach. In fact I find it a lot more balanced than "real news" and almost feel like giving up on the likes of bbc news (I gave up on ITV and channel 5 a long time ago).
    Good post