Monday, November 20, 2017

Stranger Things 2

One year ago I went into Stranger Things with what I thought were appropriated calibrated expectations. I’d been burned before by critically lauded productions that failed to live up to the hype and there was no way, I thought, that it could possibly be as good as everyone said.


I was pleased to be wrong.

And here we are at the end of series two.

Again, I thought my expectations were adjusted appropriately. The sophomore slump is real. I knew that going in. The Duffer Brothers had a lifetime to create season one and ten months to craft the second.

The first one had been an experience. An event. A phenomenon.

The second season was merely competently-produced TV hobbled by three big problems.

1.) It’s become too cutesy and self-referential. Eleven in particular is merely a catch-phrase spouting caricature of her earlier self. I'm fond of observing that Star Wars (A New Hope) is the only Star Wars movie that doesn't take place in the Star Wars universe. A lot of the tropes that would come to define it were still being codified. It drew on Kurosawa and Flash Gordon serials and managed to combine them into something entirely new. Same with season one of Stranger Things. It's imitating itself for season two and like the ripoffs that followed Star Wars, it is missing a lot of what worked the first time around.

2.) They're trying too hard to please their most vocal critics. #JusticeforBarb does not need a series long arc, we didn't need an entire sitcom family for Lucas because his parents were not conspicuous in the first series. These are both addressed in excruciating detail. It couldn’t have been less subtle if his dad had mugged for the camera at breakfast.

The Star Wars prequels were awful, but there was one thing I respected. After George Lucas got some flak for the note-for-note Tarzan yell in Return of the Jedi, he doubled down with TWO Tarzan yelling Wookiees in the prequels. Likewise, when Classic Doctor Who painted themselves in a corner they simply smashed through a load-bearing wall to get themselves out. Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. Not everything has to be wrapped up in a bow.

3.) The storylines are siloed. Much like later seasons of A Game of Thrones, it's essentially a bunch of stories that are happening at the same time rather than a single coherent storyline. They don’t even converge as much as they happen to drop the characters in the same location. I’ve run a lot of role-playing games since I began playing in the Stranger Things era of 1980s small town America. There were often times when I saw that attention at the table was flagging so I would hustle things along with a handwave. Rather than worry about the logistics of travel, I’d just say, “Okay, you all wind up at the castle at the same time.” It was lazy, but we accepted it because it got us closer to the interesting part. I was thinking of that when everyone happens to arrive at the lab at the same time. Ugh. I can get away with it because it’s something I’m doing it on the fly with a small group of friends. I’d like a little bit more effort from my entertainment, especially when I know they’re capable of it.

Picayune complaints/stuff that I didn’t like (as distinct from stuff that I thought was objectively bad) Billy is poorly integrated into the story and it drives me crazy when writers fall back on the “I have a hunch that happens to be correct!” solution to their problems. I don’t know if Kali and her group of weirdos was a back door pilot or a hook for series three, but either way it was boring and awful and should have been cut entirely. Mike is kind of a tool and if he was a real person, he’d be on track to grow up as an Internet Nice Guy.

This probably makes it sound like I hated it, but it had elements that really worked too. Any reference to Aliens is welcome. Sadie Sink was astounding as Max and gives a breakout performance. Only Will is better. He carries the show with his vulnerability. Sean Astin was a wonderful addition to the cast. Hopper and Eleven were great together. Steve is great, as always. Nancy and Jonathan do have great chemistry together (too bad they have so many scenes with Murray, who is just this side of an offensive stereotype).

Bottom line, it wasn’t bad but it wasn't nearly as good as it could have been. Series one set a high bar and series two fails to deliver. The more I think about the first series the more I like it, but the more I think about the second series the clearer its problems become.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Illinois Nazis

One time, say about fifteen years ago, a mod on a message board I frequented remarked that he hated Nazis. After I determined that he wasn't making a reference to the Blues Brothers,

I said something like, "Dude, it's not like you're taking a courageous stand here. Nazis are like pedophiles. EVERYBODY hates them."

And yet, here we are in 2017, with some of the most powerful Republicans in the country defending Sebastian Gorka, Nazi, and Roy Moore, pedophile.

I never want to hear "Both sides do it!" again.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Alton Brown: Eat Your Science

We caught the show in Easton on Wednesday.

The show was three hours long with a half hour intermission. He was very much like his television persona, which I consider a good thing. Some people expect something qualitatively different out of a live show, and this material was very much in the vein of an episode of Good Eats, with a couple allowances made for medium. He’s got a polished formula and there was no need to tweak it overmuch.

Jen and I liked it; Lily loved it. It was a really nice outing.