Friday, December 6, 2013

Actual Things (My Friend and) I Said Out Loud While Watching NBC's The Sound of Music and Drinking

Once is an instance, twice is half-hearted bullshitting, but three times is a series! The six of you who follow this blog will remember my previous smash hit posts, Actual Things That I Said Out Loud While Watching the First 2 Seasons of Pretty Little Liars Over a 4-Day Period and Actual Things I Said Out Loud While Watching the First Season and a Half of Nip/Tuck Until It Betrayed Me By Making Me Feel Things. This is the third in the series, except that unlike the others, I've actually presented the things that I said in chronological order. Basically, it's a liveblog, except I couldn't be bothered to do it live. You will probably not understand this at all if you didn't watch NBC's The Sound of Music.

A note, before we begin. I'm aware that the movie version of The Sound of Music made a few significant changes from the original musical, and that NBC's version by and large used the musical's version. My friend and I have only ever seen the movie. In the harsh light of sobriety, I'll admit that the songs that were cut from the musical to make the movie (and that NBC's version returned) are very good. Indeed, there were one or two good things about NBC's The Sound of Music: Laura Benanti was great, the Abbess was great, and I really liked the bit before the party where the older kids talked about the parties they remembered from when they were younger. But I still think that the song order from the original musical is really, really stupid, and that NBC is even stupider for not using the movie's order. (Putting "Do-Re-Mi" after the thunderstorm scene means that there's a reason the kids start to like Maria, rather than just...having them suddenly be on board with this singing thing. And "Edelweiss" is way more affecting when it's a reprise in the final scene.) And redeeming Rolf is the stupidest.

So there.

---

These hills do not look alive. These hills look like they should be the set of Into the Woods. The second act of Into the Woods.

The music is too loud for the singers. This should not be an issue on television.

Oh, Carrie Underwood. I wish you could act.

You understand that this is supposed to be a funny musical, right?

It’s “My Favorite Things.” It’s not a soulful song. You’re singing about copper kettles. It’s cheerful, it’s charming, but there’s not supposed to be a great depth of feeling to it, you know?

I like it. These wimples are the biggest wimples I have ever seen.

You are not old enough to have a sixteen-year-old daughter. Shenanigans.

What? What? I don’t understand that joke. I think it was a joke.

That was a quick transition from hating her to singing with her.

You can see the Alps from everywhere in Austria. True fact.

[Here, I poured myself a glass of wine.]

You’re wearing shorts. You’re wearing shorts. You’re like my age and you’re wearing shorts!

I think you may have missed the point of this song. I think you totally missed the point of this song.

Heh. That was some quick carving, guy.

And yet it’s amazing that even though they missed the point of that song, the mere fact of Carrie Underwood’s absence made it the best thing that this musical has done.

I swear to God, even when they leave the jokes in, you can just suck the charm out of them, Carrie Underwood.

This is why it was dumb to put “My Favorite Things” at the beginning.

You’re not singing anymore, you’re just shouting!

Time for more wine.

[My friend Kirsten showed up during this commercial break. Also, I got a second glass of wine.]

Me: This scene is exactly as bad in this version as it was in the movie.

K: Oh my god, it’s Vampire Bill
Me: Who’s Vampire Bill?
K: He’s in True Blood. [Kirsten then devolved into something about how good True Blood is.]

K: He’s married to Anna Paquin.
Me: Well that will make up for the fact that he did this on live television.

K: None of them look German.
Me: None of them are blond.

K: [Literally less than a minute later.] None of them are blond.
Me: This is what I’m saying!

K: Just because you breathe deeply through your nose does not make you an important military man.
Me: Stop. Just watch Carrie Underwood be terrible.

K: She’s grabbing her boobs.

Me: I think the woman who should be the Baroness is wearing the dress that Maria was wearing earlier in the movie.
K: The what? Oh, I thought you said she was wearing the breasts.

K: He’s really bad at singing. Where’s Hugh Jackman?

Me: Are you cutting out Edelweiss? You’d better not be cutting out Edelweiss. I will hunt you.

Me: Have you noticed how they made her look like a little Alpine maiden? She’s fucking Heidi. She’s Heidi.

K: You just can’t beat the original actor.
Me: Christopher Plummer.
K: You just can’t beat Christopher Plummer. Nobody puts Christopher Plummer in the corner.

Me: They totally cut Edelweiss, those fuckers.
K: They’ll still put it at the end.
Me: You need it at the beginning, to establish what it’s about!

K: Man, I wish I could get drunk as fast as you.

K: Why is everyone dumb?

Me: I don’t understand why she couldn’t have just imitated Julie Andrews’ inflections. Like, it’s not that hard.

Me: And of course they cut out the fact that it’s an Austrian folk dance, which was meaningful, because the Captain loves being Austrian, and he loves that she’s Austrian and knows this folk dance. But of course we don’t know the depth of his feelings, because THEY CUT OUT EDELWEISS!
K: Your cat’s afraid.

K: Corporation president?
Me: Are you trying to update this? Are you trying to update this while keeping the Nazis?
K: Corporation president?

K: You know what this makes me want to do? Watch the original and forget all about this version.

K: We gotta buy some hard liquor so I can get drunk.
Me: There’s whiskey.
K: …I’ll grin and bear it.

[Here, we ran out of wine and moved on to cider. Kirsten never actually broke out the whiskey.]

Me: You missed the nuns. The nuns have gigantic wimples.
K: That almost sounded dirty.
Me: Wimple is just a dirty-sounding word.
K: When I think of wimples I think of flaccid penis.

K: Why do you put all the mean things I say? You encouraged me!

K: “I don’t like working there!” “Well, maybe you love your boss.”

Me: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are so much better than Sound of Music. In this version.
K: Yeah. They’re a lot better than a lot of things.

Me: This is now two more times than this song should have been used.

K: Oh my god, he can’t sing. His helping him is actually hurting their singing. That’s how bad he sings.

K: She got a new suit!
Me: She got rid of her Heidi hair.
K: She looks like she’s in the 1950s now. And like, a stewardess.

Me: Note how “My Favorite Things” has lost its resonance because she never taught it to them.

Me: Wait, they’re about to fuck up this scene.
K: They’re about to fuck up every scene.

K: I’m so happy this is almost over.
Me: It’s not, though.
K: Shit.

K: You know what they’re doing? They’re acting like it’s a play, only it’s not a play. It’s TV. You’re supposed to act small for TV.

K: That’s actually kind of funny.
Me: It is. If only they had any sense of comedic timing.

Me: Why are you bringing your bad acting into this mediocre acting scene?

K: This is like watching As the World Turns.

Me: “Yodelee-ee” does not make sense for the refrain. “My Favorite Things” makes sense for the refrain. It has meaning.

K: This whole thing is bullshit. It’s not paced right. There’s no romantic build-up.
Me: Oh my god, is there never any romantic bilg-a-bild-uga.

Me: It occurs to me that Carrie Underwood is neither a flibbertigibbet, nor a will-o-the-wisp, nor a clown.
K: I can’t honestly tell you what a flibbertigibbet is.

K: It makes me sad when I think about how many people are probably watching this.

Me: Now you’re pulling out the “My Favorite Things” refrain? You’d think at this point they could at least follow through with the “Yodelee-ee” thing.

Me: Wow, you totally made that less meaningful than it was. That’s like their magic power.
K: Ruining everything.

[Here, almost mid-sentence, Kirsten fell asleep. All dialogue from here on out is mine, unless otherwise specified.]

You’re a Nazi and you’re still in short pants.

Are you trying to redeem Rolf? Because that’s stupid.

Did you just change clothes? Now you’re Dominatrix Heidi. I think I’m too drunk to understand this.

This song is not as good as a reprise. Fuck it. Fuck you, Rogers and Hammerstein. You’re just not as good as the people who made the movie. And the people who made this movie are just… bad. Fuck you. I’m done.
K: [still asleep] Heh.

You’re just opposed to jokes, aren’t you? You’re opposed to happiness.

Oh, goodbye Max. I guess you’re arrested now. But… we’re not supposed to care about that?

Ugh. You redeemed Rolf. That was stupid.

It’s becoming clearer and clearer to me that you should have remade the movie and not the musical. And not hired Carrie Underwood.

God forbid anyone laugh or be happer—happy. Ever.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Nomination for my least favorite episode of anything ever: The Day of the Doctor

Herein you will find spoilers for basically all of Doctor Who ever, including The Day of the Doctor. Also, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Read at your own peril.


          The summer I was 13, my mother read all the Harry Potter books. I had already read them, of course, and I was so excited that my mom was giving them a shot, because she’d tried before and given up. But this time, she persevered. More than persevered; she got into them. Periodically, when something really exciting happened, she would call me to let me know where she’d gotten.

            One day, when Mom was reading Goblet of Fire, I got a call from her while I was at camp. I let it go to voicemail. When I checked it a few hours later, I heard this:

            “It was Moody.”

            That was it. That was the message. I wish I still had it, because I’d upload a recording and attach it to this post. Never have I heard such devastation in a three-word sentence about Harry Potter.

            Later, I asked my mom why she was so upset. She told me it wasn’t so much that she was attached to Moody, as that she was invested in the Triwizard Tournament. She’d spent 650 pages of a 700-page book rooting for Harry, wondering if he would win, being relieved when he succeeded, wishing and hoping and praying. And then in the end, it turns out it was all rigged. Harry never actually had a chance of losing at all. All that emotion—on Harry’s part and my mom’s—all that emotion, wasted on a lie.

            This is not a post about Harry Potter. This is a post about Doctor Who. This is a post about the Time War.

#

            The 2005 Doctor Who is not a reboot of the classic series, but neither is it entirely the same animal. The series share a continuity and a few characters, but they differ in their sensibilities. Their tones, their themes, and their styles are all considerably different. To an extent, this is true of many eras in the show’s history; Doctor Who reinvents itself with every Doctor and every showrunner. But it’s especially true of New Who and Classic Who.

            The difference-maker is the Time War. Specifically, the end of the Time War, and the Doctor’s actions there. Not fully revealed until The End of Time, the Doctor’s decision—his war crime—turns him from a renegade wanderer into a lone survivor. It turns him from a (relatively) carefree adventurer into a haunted, desperate atoner. It changes him. Fundamentally. Every New Who Doctor has carried the legacy of the Time War with him. Nine, Ten, and Eleven have all struggled with the moral implications of it. It’s the thread that holds them together: For seven series, the deepest, the most moving, the most meaningful moments of Doctor Who have always carried in them the echo of the genocide of the Time Lords.

            And now, apparently, it never happened.

            To say that I’m disappointed is not an understatement. “Disappointing” is not even the spectrum that I’m working from. I’m not disappointed; I’ve been cheated. The game was always rigged.

            Imagine that in season eight of House, it was revealed that House’s leg had never been injured. It was all in his head. Not only is he fully capable of walking now, he has been since the moment we met him. He never had an infarction. The infarction was a dream.

            Imagine that in Iron Man 3, we learned that Tony Stark had never been a weapons manufacturer. He was actually a toy-maker; he only dreamed that he built missiles. He only imagined that bombs he’d invented had killed thousands.

            Imagine that in season four of Angel, we learn that Angel’s soul wasn’t given to him by a gypsy in retribution for the many horrors he’d caused. Rather, he’d had a soul from the moment he became a vampire, and the gypsy cursed him to believe that he’d murdered and tortured thousands of people.

            That’s what’s just happened to Doctor Who. Every moment in the past seven series that derived its weight from the Time War has been cheapened. And there have been many such moments. The show is built on them, in fact.

            If you watched The Day of the Doctor—and if you haven’t, what are you doing reading this?—you’ll remember this bit:

            John Hurt: You’re about to murder millions of people.
            Kate Lethbridge-Stewart: To save billions. How many times have                   you made that calculation?                                                                              Eleven: Once. Turned me into the man I am now. I’m not even sure                 who that is anymore.                                                                                      Ten: You tell yourself it’s justified, but it’s a lie. Because what I                     did that day was wrong. Just wrong.

            Steven Moffat, apparently not content to literally rewrite the history of the show, has rewritten it figuratively as well. Over the past seven series, the Doctor has made that calculation dozens of times—and he hasn’t always decided it was wrong.

            In the series one finale, “The Parting of the Ways,” the Ninth Doctor, cornered on a space station by a horde of Daleks poised to exterminate the world, builds a delta wave transmitter. The delta wave will destroy the Daleks, but will also kill most of the humans on Earth. With his hands on the trigger, the Dalek Emperor taunts him. “What are you, coward or killer?” the Dalek asks. The Doctor takes his hands off the trigger. “Coward, any day.”

            In series four, episode two, “The Fires of Pompeii,” Donna and the Tenth Doctor end up in Pompeii, the day before the destruction of Mount Vesuvius. Towards the end of the episode, they end up inside the volcano. They realize that the mountain is the base for the rock monsters they’ve been battling, unless the mountain is destroyed—unless the volcano erupts—the rock monsters will take over the Earth, killing all humanity. The Doctor puts his hands on the self-destruct lever. Donna puts her hands over his. They push the lever, erupting the volcano, and killing everyone in the city of Pompeii.

            In series five, episode two, “The Beast Below,” the Eleventh Doctor and Amy discover that a space ship has captured a space whale, and is torturing it into carrying the ship on its back. The Doctor, faced with two bad options—letting the space whale be tortured indefinitely, or letting the thousands of innocents on the spaceship die—chooses to lobotomize the whale. He is saved by a last-minute realization from Amy, but nonetheless, that’s his choice.

            In series seven, episode three, “A Town Called Mercy,” the titular town of Mercy is being threatened by a cyborg soldier, who says that unless the town turns over an alien in their midst, a war criminal by the name of Jax, everyone in the town will die. The Doctor picks Jax up and carries him over the city limits himself, handing him over to the cyborg. (Jax, incidentally, is being hunted by the cyborg for turning him into a cyborg, so that he could end a war that was devastating a planet.)

            All of those decisions are terrible and important ones, and all of them are interesting moral dilemmas on their own. But all of them gain much of their emotional significance from the fact that the Doctor is trying to atone for a genocide. “A Town Called Mercy” and “The Beast Below,” in particular, draw strong allusions to the Doctor’s actions in the Time War. And what’s the real meaning behind “The Parting of the Ways” if the Doctor has never been the killer he thinks he is?

            And what about the Doctor’s losses? How are we supposed to feel anything over the death of The Master in “The Last of the Time Lords” if the Doctor is not, in fact, the last of the Time Lords? If the Doctor’s entire family is not dead, what was the point of examining that grief in “The Doctor’s Daughter”? If the Doctor is not the last of his kind, how much meaning is there in the parallels that were drawn between him and the lonely monster in “Vincent and the Doctor”? Between him and the space whale in “The Beast Below?” Between him and the minotaur in “The God Complex”?

            Those aren't the only scenes that lose their resonance. What do we do with the revelation that the Dream Lord is really the Doctor in "Amy's Choice," now that the Doctor no longer has any good reason to be the only person in the universe who hates himself as much as the Dream Lord does? What do we do with the assumed contents of the Doctor's room in "The God Complex," if the Doctor has never really done anything that makes him that terrifying? Half--more than half--of the Doctor's characterization in New Who has been based on hating himself, on grief and regret. Those scenes don't mean nearly so much, now.

            And then, of course, there’s the moral lesson itself. Maybe there are people who truly believe that sacrifices never have to be made. That it’s always possible to save the day without hurting anyone innocent. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I doubt it, but I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s pretty damn easy to say “There’s always a way out!” when you’re the writer and you can pull any wibbly-wobbly Deus ex machina you want out of your ass.

            You want to know why I rant about Steven Moffat? It’s not the sexism. It’s not the grand, shiny plots that seem really cool until you realize they make no sense. It’s this: Doctor Who used to be a show about impossible choices, unbearable losses, and yes, exploring the universe in a police box. It used to be a show about characters, plural, with complicated histories and rich internal lives. But a show like that has to live with its consequences. It can’t undo past events, especially not central, meaningful ones, because the characters’ actions, their losses, and their responses and growth in the aftermath, are the point of a show like that. So Doctor Who isn’t about those things anymore.

            Now it’s a show about clever plots, where history gets rewritten every season. It’s a show about one character, the Doctor, whose most interesting character arc has just been unwritten, and a series of companions with no particular psychological depth and no hint of a life or story that doesn’t revolve around the Doctor.


            Doctor Who used to be a show about people. Now it’s a show about fezzes. But hey, I guess that’s fine. After all, fezzes are cool.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Time to piss off everyone I respect and mostly agree with, I guess.

All right, I can’t believe I’m doing this, but here goes. Let’s talk Joss Whedon and feminism.

First of all, I should get this out there: I care approximately zero percent about the word feminist. It’s an important word, but it’s also a loaded one, and contrary to what people will try to tell you, it does not mean “the belief that women are equal to men.” At least, it doesn’t always mean that. Hundreds of groups with hundreds of ideologies have called themselves feminists, and the label is loaded. We could try to take it back, but it seems to me like an uphill battle with very little return on the investment. I have no problem with people wanting to disassociate themselves from the word feminist, just as long as they don’t disassociate themselves from equal pay, reproductive rights, and sexual assault advocacy. Words matter, sure, but they don’t matter nearly so much as results.

Second of all, I should also get this out there: I don’t mind it when men talk about feminism! I’ve never minded it! Men have a gender, and men are part of the world in which sexism exists, and men are at least half of the sexism equation, and that means that it is, in fact, important to hear what men think about feminism. Yeah, there are forums that should be all-women, but those forums do not include the entire world of conversations about sex and gender. A man talking honestly about his views and conclusions about feminism, no matter how wrong you may find those views, or how obvious those conclusions may seem, is not mansplaining. At least, not necessarily.

Third of all, I’m a firm believer that people can have good beliefs, and do a lot of good in the world because of those beliefs, and still be, on occasion, total assholes in direct opposition to those beliefs. So I’m not going to touch on the Charisma Carpenter pregnancy thing, because I wasn’t there, and even if Whedon fired Carpenter because he was mad at her for getting pregnant (which I agree would have been a fucking horrible thing to do, and from all accounts, no matter what the reason, it sounds like Carpenter’s firing was handled badly), I don’t think it means the man is a raging sexist, I don’t think it automatically negates anything he says about feminism, and I honestly don’t think it matters all that much to my point.

My point, which is this. I don’t 100% agree with what Joss Whedon said. I don’t 100% disagree with it, either. Mostly, I don’t care. Joss Whedon got up at an event for an organization that is all about working for gender equality, and made a speech in which he argued that gender equality is necessary and not yet realized. He also argued that the word we use to express “gender equality is necessary and not yet realized” is ill-chosen. 95% of people in the world will never read his speech. They’ll never know that he gave it. 95% of people in the world will have their only contact with Joss Whedon through his stories. 95% of people will only be affected by Joss Whedon’s views on feminism in so far as those views affect Joss Whedon’s female characters.

95% of people in the world will only be affected by Buffy. By Willow. By River. By Cordelia, Dawn, Joyce, Faith, Zoe, Inara, Tara, Kaylee, Anya, Glory, Harmony, Fred, Drusilla, Darla, Lilah, and whoever was on Dollhouse, I never watched that show. They’ll be affected by dozens of women who are heroes and villains and everything in between. They’ll be affected by women who are superheroes, scientists, witches, wallflowers, ditzes, drama queens, caretakers, lone wolves, mothers, daughters, sisters. They’ll be affected by smart women, silly women, ass-kicking women, engine-fixing women, sexy women, shy women, commanding women, conniving women, conflicted women. They’ll be affected by narratives that are certainly imperfect in their treatment of women, but then, what narrative has ever been perfect in its treatment of anything? 95% of people in the world will have their only connection to Joss Whedon through stories that treat women as people, and as equals.

So Joss Whedon got up at some event and said something about the word feminist that was either really cool or really stupid, depending on which feminist you ask.


Can you imagine how little I care?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to blog about opening my new Elementary DVDs

Today is my birthday. (Well, it was when I was writing this.) For my birthday, my amazing sister got me the first season of Elementary on DVD. Upon realizing this incredible, wonderful, glorious fact, I immediately understood one thing:

This must be blogged.

So here we are. A point-by-point breakdown of What Happened When I Got My Elementary DVDs.

10:56 PM (PST) – I open the package and see a thumbnail image of Lucy Liu’s face. I shriek, terrifying the cat.

10:57 PM (PST) – I hold the unopened DVD case in my hands, marveling.

11:01 PM (PST) – I call my sister (who is asleep on the East Coast) and babble my gratitude into her voicemail.

11:03 PM (PST) – I succeed, after much consternation, in removing the plastic wrap from my DVDs.

11:05 PM (PST) – I read the names of the special features off the back of the DVD box. They include “A Holmes Of Their Own,” “In Liu Of Watson,” and “Holmes Sweet Holmes.” “These people like puns,” I say to myself (and out loud).

11:06 PM (PST) – I read the synopsis on the back of the DVD box. It is, I kid you not, one of the best DVD-box synopses I’ve ever read. It sounds like it was written by someone who's actually watched the show. (It’s definitely way better than my personal favorite DVD-box synopsis, the one on Farscape: Peacekeeper Wars, which just makes up a plot for the miniseries wholesale. “I don’t have time to watch this,” I can hear the writer saying. “Oh well. No one will notice if I just put some fanfiction there instead.”)

11:11 PM (PST) – I am distracted from my mission by some stupid person wishing me happy birthday or something.

11:12 PM (PST) – I open the box. First thoughts: The DVDs themselves are just boring grey, BUT they have the episode titles printed on the discs themselves, which will make my life way easier when I inevitably get them out of order. Also, I’m reminded how much I love some of the season 1 episode titles. Particularly “A Giant Gun, Filled With Drugs.”

11:16 PM (PST) – I take out the first and last discs so that I can read the episode synopses set into the sides of the DVD case. They, like the back-of-the-box synopsis, are not bad. Also, each episode’s original air date is rather charmingly printed next to its title. I don’t know why I like that so much, but I really do.

11:18 PM (PST) – I bask in my joy. You know what other episode title I really like? “You Do It To Yourself.”

11:19 PM (PST) – I think part of why I like the title “A Giant Gun, Filled With Drugs” so much is the comma. You don’t see a lot of episode titles with commas in them.

11:22 PM (PST) – These DVDs do not seem to have audio commentary, which is sad sad sad, because 1) I love DVD audio commentary more than is generally considered sane, and 2) I’m pretty sure the Elementary writers would be enormous fun to listen to. That’s okay though, because ELEMENTARY DVDS.

11:25 PM (PST) – The cat is making weird noises. I choose to believe that she is expressing her excitement over my new DVDs.

11:27 PM (PST) – I pop the first disc into my laptop to check about the audio commentary, and I hear the CBS Home Entertainment music, which immediately makes me think of Criminal Minds, so now you know how I spent most of high school.

11:29 PM (PST) – The DVD titles sequence is both really long and pretty cool.

11:30 PM (PST) – No, no audio commentary. I SHALL PERSEVERE.

11:31 PM (PST) – Disc out.

11:33 PM (PST) – I have the day off tomorrow. THIS IS GOING TO BE SO MUCH FUN.


In retrospect, this seems like a kind of pointless blog entry. Whatever, I’m still posting it.

(Possibly of note: This is the first birthday my sister and I have spent 3,000 miles apart. I thought she might like to get to "see" me open my gift from her, because she is an awesome sister who gave me an awesome gift, and I love her.)

Monday, August 26, 2013

Gender Disparity in American and British Television Writing Staffs (Or: Somebody, Please, Please, Take Away My Excel Access)

My quest to spite Steven Moffat may have gotten out of hand. (Quoth Community: “This is how supervillains are created.”)

If you’re breathing and use the internet, you’ve probably heard the screaming and debate over whether current Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat needs to hire more female writers. And by “more,” I mean “some”: In his three-year, 42-episode tenure, Moffat has not employed a single female writer.

Well, you know me. I love getting outraged at Steven Moffat. I want so badly to be able to say, “Fuck you, Steven Moffat. This is fucking ridiculous.” But, sadly, I can’t get outraged without data. Before I could swear delightedly at Moffat, I needed to know whether Moffat is really doing such a bad job, compared to everyone else. What if, as one of the above links suggests, gender inequality on writing staffs is a systemic problem in British sci-fi/fantasy? “Fuck you, British sci-fi/fantasy, this is fucking ridiculous,” is just way less fun to yell.

So I started researching the writing staffs of the big sci-fi/fantasy shows: Star Trek. Game of Thrones. Farscape. (It’s big to me, damn it!) And then I started researching the staffs of some other shows of interest: Mad Men. Community. The Walking Dead.

And then I thought, Holy fucking hell, selection bias, much?

There was only one solution: A comprehensive study of gender equality in British and American television writing.


The Study

I looked at every scripted show that aired six or more episodes in Britain in the last three years on any of the following channels: BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, ITV, and ITV2.

I looked at every scripted show that aired six or more episodes in America in the last three years on any broadcast network (ABC, CBS, the CW, Fox, or NBC).

In order to avoid poring over thousands of soap opera episodes, I limited my sample to shows that generally aired once a week.

For each show, I recorded the total number of episodes written; the total number of writers credited; the number of episodes credited to at least one female writer; the number of female writers credited; and the number of the first episode with a female writing credit. Excel then kindly calculated for me the ratio of female-credited episodes to total episodes, as well as the ratio of female writers to total writers. Excel is good like that.

My data was gathered from Wikipedia and occasionally from IMDB, and is only as accurate as my sources. I used names as an indicator of gender, which is not a 100% accurate system; when in doubt, I googled the writer to check. (There were a very few cases in which Google did not provide. In those cases, I either played the percentages, if it was a name that generally goes with one gender or the other, or I defaulted to male, if it was not. There were not, I think, enough of these cases to make a very big impact on the data, and there is no show in which an uncertain name was the only female credit.) If a name looked obviously male or obviously female, I didn’t check, so to any female television writers out there named George: I’m sorry, but I counted you as a male writer.


Definitions
Define your terms, people. Always define your terms. Otherwise we’re all just wandering around in a haze of random gibberish.

Popularly, an auteur project is one that is controlled entirely by one writer or small group of writers. I specifically defined an auteur television show as a show that:

                Credited 3 or fewer writers

                OR

                Had the same writing credit for every episode.

The episodes ratio, for the purpose of this post, is the number of episodes a show has with at least one female writing credit divided by the total number of episodes:


The writers ratio, for the purposes of this post, is the number of female writers a show employed divided by the total number of writers:


Those interested in looking at the full data (complete with relevant and irrelevant notes) can do so here:

(America)

(Britain)


The Breakdown


Total
Mean Episodes Ratio
Mean Writers Ratio
British non-auteur shows
34
.205
.243
American shows
154
.378
.334
British sci-fi/fantasy
8
.134
.187
American sci-fi/fantasy
25
.404
.341

In Britain, there were 34 total non-auteur television shows.

In America, there were 154 total television shows.

In Britain, for non-auteur projects, the episodes ratio was .205. (The “average” show credited a female writer on 20.5% of its episodes.)

In America, the episodes ratio was .378. (The “average” show credited a female writer on 37.8% of its episodes.)

In Britain, for non-auteur projects, the mean writers ratio was .243. (24.3% of the writers employed over all time by the “average” show were women.)

In America, the mean writers ratio was .334. (33.4% of the writers employed over all time by the “average” show were women.)

In Britain, there were 8 non-auteur sci-fi/fantasy television shows.

In America, there were 25 sci-fi/fantasy television shows.

In British non-auteur sci-fi/fantasy, the mean ratio episodes ratio was .134. (The “average” show credited a female writer on 13.4% of its episodes.)

In American sci-fi/fantasy, the mean episodes ratio was .404. (The “average” show credited a female writer on 40.4% of its episodes.)

In British non-auteur sci-fi/fantasy, the mean writers ratio was .187. (18.7% of the writers employed over all time by the “average” show were women.)

In American sci-fi/fantasy, the mean writers ratio was .341. (34.1% of the writers employed over all time by the “average” show were women.)


Britain has a lot of auteur shows (40 out of the 74 shows I looked at), so I looked at those shows separately. Here are the relevant statistics:

In Britain, 40 out of 74 (~54.1%) shows counted were auteur projects.

In America, 0 out of 154 (0%) shows counted were auteur projects.

In Britain, 13 out of 40 (32.5%) auteur projects credited a female writer.


So, Who Won?

Amurka won by a fucking landslide. I was good to Britain. I only considered shows that had actual writing staffs (since most of Britain’s auteur shows are run by men). But sadly, they just couldn’t keep up with good ol’ US of A.

How badly did they lose? Well, take a look at these sexy, sexy histograms:

BRITAIN:
 AMERICA:
What’s that you’re saying? You don’t really know much about how histograms work, because you’re a normal person who can get angry at a TV writer without performing a comprehensive analysis of gender disparity in the workplace?

Oh. Okay. Well, a histogram measures frequencies. Consider the British Episodes Ratio histogram. Each of the bars represents the number of television shows whose ratios fell within that particular range. The numbers below the bars represent the upper limit of each bar’s range. So, since the left-most bar (the one over the 0.1) hits 16, that means that there were 16 shows in which at most 10% of the episodes were credited to a female writer. (The other bars are for the shows with ratios between 0.1 and 0.2, 0.2 and 0.3, 0.3 and 0.4, and so on.)

If there were a totally even number of male and female writers in the potential workforce, and writers were hired totally at random (or at least, if they were hired with actual gender-blindness, since I don’t actually believe that men are inherently better writers than women), we would expect each of the above histograms to conform to a normal curve, also known as a bell curve.

Data that conforms to a normal curve looks like this:

Basically, it looks like a bell—hence the name. In our hypothetical world where writers are employed without regard to their gender, we would expect the tippy-top of our bell to be at or around 0.5, meaning that the most common episodes ratio is 0.5.

If a lot more male writers are employed than female writers, we’ll get a lopsided bell, with the tip-top on the left. In the opposite case, well get a bell with the tip-top on the right.

Okay. Now go look at the histograms again. Which ones look more like our hypothetical gender-blind world?

Yeah.

If you’re still not convinced, here’s a less rigorous but more evocative statistic for you. Of the 34 non-auteur British television shows I looked at, 7 employed no female writers at all. That’s about 20.6%.

Of the 154 American television shows I looked at, only one—Allen Gregory, for those interested—employed no female writers. That’s about 0.6%.

(“But Madelyn!” you say. “American TV shows have so many more episodes in which to hire female writers!” Yes, but of the 154 American shows I looked at, only 11 took more than 6 episodes to get to their first female writing credit. In Britain, 13 shows took more than 6 episodes to get to their first female credit—and that’s not counting the 5 shows that had more than 6 episodes but no female writing credits at all.)


Does That Mean British People Evil Misogynists?

I dunno, maybe. But probably not. Correlation is not, as they say, causation, and there are a lot of potential reasons that the world of British television isn’t as X-chromosome-rich as America. Maybe there are some subtle sociological factors that discourage British women from being writers. Maybe there’s a law in Britain that says you have to bench press 200 lbs. before you can write for TV. Maybe (and this one seems very plausible, to me) British TV writers staff their shows with writers they know, and male writers tend to know male writers—and, since we’re not so far out from the 70s, established writers tend to be male.

What I doubt is that British (or American, for that matter) executives and showrunners are getting scripts from women, thinking, “Ew! Girls can’t write! They have cooties!” and rejecting them.


Didn’t You Say Something Earlier About Sci-Fi? Maybe it’s Sci-Fi’s Fault!

Well, in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, it’s certainly not. Check the stats. (They’re about three miles behind us, in the “Breakdown” section.) American sci-fi/fantasy actually has higher ratios of female writers and writing credits than does the general American population.

In Britain, sci-fi/fantasy does do a little worse than the average, but not a lot worse. Removing sci-fi/fantasy shows from the population only brings the mean episodes ratio up to .229, and the mean writers ratio to .261. Both are still considerably below their American counterparts.

In other words: It’s not British sci-fi that’s doing a bad job hiring women. It’s just Britain.

(Not, by the way, that America’s doing all that great a job. It’s just doing better.)


Is There Any Random Miscellany You’d Like to Share? We Know You Love Random Miscellany.

I so totally do. Two shows (Lonestar and The Playboy Club) were cut from the American list because, although six episodes were produced, fewer than six had locatable writing credits. Of the five available episodes, Lonestar had one episode credited to a female writer; The Playboy Club had three.

The hardest time I had figuring out a writer’s gender was for Dana Greenblatt. Eventually, I discovered that she had once been a contestant on Jeopardy, and after twenty minutes’ googling, I found a fansite with pictures of basically every Jeopardy winner. Never has twenty minutes been better spent.

While compiling the British data, I held a contest for Most British Name. The winner was Harry Wootliff, writer of one episode of Waterloo Road.

There’s also an American procedural writer named Speed Weed. You’re welcome.


Wait. Wasn’t This Supposed to Be About Steven Moffat?

Fuck, you’re right. Well, here’s the thing. Moffat has produced 42 episodes of Doctor Who. In the process, he employed 12 writers. None of them were women. Of the 7 British TV shows that have never employed a female writer, only one—Not Going Out—even has 42 episodes. Of the rest, only one—Agatha Christie’s Poirot—went longer than 42 episodes before it credited its first woman. (That’s not counting classic Doctor Who, which technically went 107 episodes before crediting a woman, though I think it was on something like its 23rd serial.) Moffat’s way the hell on the left of the histograms; he’s bringing down the average; he’s part of the problem, not the solution.

But…he really is only part of the problem. Maybe this will help explain what I mean: Moffat employed 12 male writers. His predecessor, Russell T. Davies, employed 16 writers, all but one of whom were male. Of Moffat’s 12 writers, 8 were already writing for the show under Davies. Moffat only hired four writers, and two of those, Neil Cross and Neil Gaiman, are very high-profile; he stuck with the people he knew. And there are plenty of shows on the list that hired four male writers before they got to a woman.

(By the way, it took Davies 32 episodes to give out a female writing credit.)

Basically, Moffat is an extreme example of a systemic problem. Should he employ more female writers? Yes. Absolutely fucking yes. Yes, yes, a million times yes. For one thing, there’s a chance that it will make Doctor Who less casually sexist.

But do I think he (and by extension, the rest of British and American television) should make an effort to go out and hire more women, just to even out the score?

I don’t know. I really don’t know. There’s an argument to be made—and it’s not an obviously false one—that having a few women around will make television better just because it brings a new perspective. It widens the range of stories we think to tell. (Much as hiring ethnic, religious, and sexual minority writers would.)

But my guess is that the majority of the writers who come across Moffat’s radar, and the radar of many others, really are male.

I guess what I’m most comfortable saying is this: I think the best writer for the job should be hired, every time. But I don’t think that the best writer is always the guy you know. I think television producers would benefit from broadening their searches. Not necessarily hiring the people they worked with on their last show. And I think a byproduct of that, in many cases, would be an increase in the diversity of writing staffs.

But wow, that’s hard to yell about. So as much as I’d like to end this ridiculously long post by saying, “Fuck you Steven Moffat, this is fucking ridiculous,” I can’t. Instead, I leave you with this:


Fuck you, systemic problems affecting the gender disparity of writing staffs on British and to a lesser extent American television! This is fucking ridiculous!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Actual Things I Said Out Loud While Watching the First Season and a Half of Nip/Tuck Until It Betrayed Me By Making Me Feel Things

In the vein of my previous post, Actual Things I Said Out Loud While Watching the First 2 Seasons of Pretty Little Liars Over a 4-Day Period. Herein you will find mild spoilers for Nip/Tuck and, oddly enough, major spoilers for The Newsroom.


"Ew. Ew. Ew, ew, ew."

"You brought hors d’oeurves to your sex-tervention?"

"Oh, honey, this is dumb."

"Honey, why are you doing this? Why are you so dumb?"

"This is unquestionably the stupidest idea anyone has ever had."

"You see how the music has stopped being awesome? That’s how you know this is a terrible idea."

"This is not the worst idea anybody’s ever had, actually."

"You sound super drunk."

"Look, I’m gonna say this just this one time: Cheat on your wife, damn it."

"Oh wow, you’re really fucked up in lots of ways, aren’t you?"

"You’re like Jack Harkness with less self-confidence. But also slightly less self-loathing."

"You, see a therapist. You, see twelve therapists. Liz, keep doing what you’re doing."

"No kissy."

"I find you people boring and despicable, but better than watching kids die on The Newsroom, so…"

"I just need you to stop pretending you’re a mother."

"This is like the gradually-revealed backstory of a murder on an episode of Cold Case."

"For once, everybody else is as uncomfortable as I am."

"Shouldn’t you have some fucking security for your operating room? People are always just walking in there."

"Thank you for reminding me, as if I needed to be reminded, of how horrible of a person you are."

"Ha ha ha, your hair!"

"You guys just have a weird little thing going, don’t you?"

"But honey, if you’re gonna point a gun at a drug dealer, you gotta fucking shoot it."

"Why are you so short?"

"You just need to, like, settle down and have your threesome. Y’know?"

"I always feel kinda weird eating during this show."

"Stop it. Stop it, this show is terrible, and I don’t want to like it."

"Oh oh oh oh oh oh it’s a baby! Oh oh it’s a baby!"

"[said while fake crying] Baby. I want the baby. I want the baby."

"I do not watch this show to be in pain. I watch this show to have something to do while I do other stuff."

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Four Reasons People Actually Dislike The Newsroom (A Semi-Serious List)

I’ve been thinking about The Newsroom lately, perhaps because it’s one of the only shows I watch that’s currently airing new episodes. Lots of people deeply, deeply dislike The Newsroom. They have lots of reasons for their hate: it’s kind of pompous, it’s kind of sexist, the characters never do anything wrong, and using old news stories gives Aaron Sorkin 20/20 hindsight that he uses to make his characters seem better and right all the time.

Now, I like The Newsroom. And honestly, I think the complaint about using real-world news stories is kind of weak. (You think Aaron Sorkin has less insider knowledge about the outcome of news stories he made up? The West Wing was no less an indictment of real-world cynical politicians just because it didn’t use real-world political scandals.) But I do acknowledge it has faults, pompousness and sexism among them. On the other hand, those faults have been present in just about everything Sorkin has ever written, and while there are plenty of people who will complain about Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, that’s just not the case with, for instance, The West Wing.

So, why do people really dislike The Newsroom? I thought it over for a bit and came up with a few ideas. So here they are—the four reasons people really dislike The Newsroom:
  1. The Music

    I’m sorry, but the score is just wrong. Wrong wrong wrong all the time. It’s overdramatic and kind of slow and always gets the tone of the scene wrong. Even when it’s a funny scene (and there are lots of funny scenes!) the score just kind of keeps going on, like, “THIS IS THE MOST SERIOUS JOB IN THE WORLD.” It’s not bad music! It’s just that it’s wrong in every way.

  2. The Pacing

    Let me be clear, here. I don’t mean the pacing of the narrative, though that could probably be tuned up as well. I’m talking about the pacing of the dialogue. You remember Sports NightThe West Wing, and even Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip? You remember what made them enjoyable to watch? Everyone talked so fast! It meant you could fit like 30 jokes into a scene about the census. The characters on The Newsroom (with one exception, who I’ll get to later) just talk so slow.

    Plus, and I realize I already kind of made this point but I think it’s worth repeating, there are lots of jokes on The Newsroom. Unfortunately, the direction, music, and editing all just kind of ignore them.

  3. Maggie and Fucking Jim

    Fuuuuuuuuck Maggie and Jim.

  4. The General Lack of Sloan Sabbath

    Sloan Sabbath is far and away the best character on The Newsroom. She’s the funniest (and the show actually acknowledges when she’s funny), she’s the coolest, she’s the least annoying, and she doesn’t have a direct parallel in any other Sorkin show. So of course, she appears in about three minutes out of every sixty-minute episode. I hesitate to say that Sloan should have more storylines, because storylines are where Aaron Sorkin tends to go wrong with his characters (see again: Maggie and Fucking Jim), so let’s just say she should have more screentime. Way more screentime.


And that's all, really. Having read this list, I hope that you can now go forward, better informed about yourself and your reactions to The Newsroom, and appreciate the show on its own true merits.

(That is to say, Sloan Sabbath.)

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Women in Television: A Detective Story

Update: The Women's Media Center has put out a 2014 report that gives almost identical numbers to ours for the 2012-2013 season, though their network-by-network breakdowns were different (not surprising, since they were counting slightly different things). They cite these numbers as being the highest that female representation in television has ever been (equaling the numbers reported for the 2007-2008 season). Here's the report they cite; this time, it is clear that the on-screen numbers, like the behind-the-scenes numbers, were achieved by sampling. It's also clear that when they refer to "female characters," they refer to speaking roles.

--

There's a post going around Tumblr that says that while 19% of television characters are non-human, only 17% are female. The post cites "A Profile of Americans’ Media Use and Political Socialization Effects: television and the Internet’s relationship to social connectedness in the USA," by Daniel German and Caitlin Lally, from a 2007 issue of Policy Futures in Education.

My sister and I, lifelong skeptics, television addicts, and feminists, thought that number seemed a little off. So we embarked on an internet detective story of sorts, one which yielded both interesting results and a kind of object lesson in blindly trusting data. (Spoiler alert: You probably shouldn't blindly trust data.)

First, we looked up the report, which you can read here: http://www.wwwords.co.uk/pdf/freetoview.asp?j=pfie&vol=5&issue=3&year=2007&article=5_German_PFIE_5_3_web

German and Lally's report does in fact state that 17% of characters on primetime television are female, while 19% are non-human. It cites as its source a 2003 Common Sense Media poll report, "The Common Sense Media Poll of American Parents."

Common Sense Media is an "independent nonprofit advocating for kids." One of their major projects is a ratings system they provide as an alternative to the MPAA and FCC's systems. They also release periodic reports about the state of media. In general, they are fairly sane--they don't want Breaking Bad cancelled because it promotes drugs, or anything.

However, the report cited by German and Lally no longer seems to be accessible anywhere. I'm sure it once existed and said what it they claim it says--but there's no way to read it. So we have no way of knowing how the data wer collected, which television shows were considered, which characters on those shows were considered, etc. It is, basically, meaningless information. Even if it weren't, the poll report is from 2003, and a lot can change in a decade.

So, what percentage of television characters are female?

A search for research devoted to the answer brought us to the Women's Media Center, a non-profit advocacy group focused on improving the representation of women in media, both behind the scenes and on screen. In 2012, they released a report, The Status of Women in U.S. Media 2012, which primarily focuses on the representation of female producers, writers, directors, etc. However, there is a brief section on female television characters:
In the 2010-2011 season, females accounted for 41 percent of all fictional television characters. This represents a decline of 2 percentage points from the 2007-2008 season, when female characters accounted for an historical high of 43 percent of fictional television characters (Lauzen, 2011b). Female characters were typically younger than male counterparts, white, and more likely to have an undefined employment status. Shows with at least one woman writer or creator have a slightly higher percentage of female characters (44 percent) than shows with only male writers and creators (40 percent) (Lauzen, 2011b).
The report cites as its source a paper by Martha Lauzen, the executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. The paper is "The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 250 Films of 2010." Unfortunately, that paper is not available online in its entirety; the executive summary indicates that it focused solely on the representation of women behind the scenes, and then only in the film industry. It does not seem to have had anything to do with the representation of fictional women on television.

There is, however, a paper by Martha Lauzen, cited by the Women's Media Center report as "Lauzen, 2011a," that contains the information included in the quoted paragraph. The study is "Boxed In: Employment of Behind-the-Scenes and On Screen Women in the 2010-11 Prime-time Television Season." Once again, the full report doesn't seem to be available online, but the executive summary is. All of the information from the Women's Media Center report can be found in Lauzen's executive summary, as well as a little bit more. In addition to a more detailed demographic breakdown, including race and age, the summary includes a network-by-network breakdown. It concludes that:
Viewers were most likely to see female characters on programs airing on CW where female characters accounted for 52% of all characters. CW is the only network that represents females in accurate proportion to their representation in the U.S. population. On the other networks, females accounted for 43% of characters on ABC programs, 40% on CBS, 39% on Fox, and 36% on NBC.
It also mentions in passing that reality television shows were included in their "on screen numbers"--meaning that female reality stars were counted as female "characters."

What the executive summary doesn't say is how characters were counted or who counted as a character. Does it count nonspeaking roles? What about sampling? The executive summary says that it examined "individuals working behind the scenes on one randomly selected episode of every prime-time drama, situation comedy, and reality series airing on ABC, CBS, CW, Fox, and NBC." Was the same true for on-screen women? We don't know.

So we're doing much better than we were with the German and Lally statistic, but when we say that 41% of characters on television are female, we're still not exactly sure what we're saying.

Having scoured the internet high and low for answers, my sister and I were forced to conclude that the only avenue left to us was original research. So we devised a little project. We looked at the live-action scripted shows in the fall 2012 primetime line-up for every broadcast network (ABC, CBS, the CW, Fox, and NBC). Then we counted up the female and male main characters on those shows.

How did we decide who counted as a main character? Fantastic question! We let the shows decide. Every character listed on the "cast" or "characters" page on the show's official website went into the mix. If the official website was no longer available, we used Wikipedia, which usually breaks down characters into "main" and "recurring." Every character in the "main character" section was counted.

Here are the results:

ABC
Men: 70
Women: 71
Female Representation: 50.35%

CBS
Men: 73
Women: 43
Female Representation: 37.07%

The CW
Men: 34
Women: 25
Female Representation: 42.37%

Fox
Men: 35
Women: 30
Female Representation: 46.15%

NBC
Men: 81
Women: 56
Female Representation: 40.88%

Total
Men: 293
Women: 225
Female Representation: 43.44%

Our overall number, 43.44%, is pretty close to Lauzen's, which isn't a huge surprise. And the fact that two surveys found similar numbers (even if ours is pretty haphazard), improves our confidence that the numbers are close to correct.

On the other hand, there are some obvious issues with this data. For one thing, we relied on other sources to tell us what constituted a main character, and we can't account for how those sources decided. For another, it doesn't really get at the degree of representation involved--sure, it's all well and good to say that CBS's Elementary has three male and one female regular cast member, giving it 25% female representation, but should Marcus Bell and Thomas Gregson really be counted as main characters on equal footing with Joan Watson? Finally, the data is of course incredibly limited: only main characters were counted, and only for a narrow classification of shows.

But some of our data's issues (the narrow classification of the shows involved and the degree of representation, especially) are shared to some degree by Lauzen. And at least we know what the limitations are in our data. When we say that 50.35% of ABC's main characters were female in 2012, we damn well know what we're saying.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur, and the nature of adaptations

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE ELEMENTARY SEASON FINALE CONTAINED HEREIN.

Okay, so a season's time has pretty firmly cemented my adoration for Elementary. I have therefore spent the last few days scouring the internet for other people who love it (tumblr is good for that), and in the process, I've discovered a whole bunch of people critiquing it--as well as Sherlock and the Guy Ritchie movies--for deviations from canon. The most recent target of this kind of critique is the revelation that--SERIOUSLY, YOU GUYS, SPOILER--Elementary's Irene Adler, the love of Sherlock's life, is in fact Moriarty. Lots of people have loved this, but there's a subset who hate it. There's a subset of people who hate Sherlock and a subset of people who hate the Guy Ritchie movies, and they hate them because they don't seem to align with Arthur Conan Doyle's canon. Irene Adler isn't a villain, people say. Sherlock isn't emotional, people say. Watson is competent, or isn't competent, or is more of a doctor, or is more of a veteran, or likes Sherlock more, or likes Sherlock less, people say. (People are kind of unsure about Watson.)

I find this both interesting and incredibly irritating. Let me explain.

For the past several months, I've been teaching a class on the Arthurian legend. The basic question of the class was this: What makes a story Arthurian? We looked at sources from Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th century straight on up to BBC's Merlin. We examined the tradition of each major character, and we examined the ways those traditions have changed over time.

So let's take Morgan le Fay. I think it's fair to say that the average person, in as much as they know anything about Morgan le Fay, knows that she's a witch and knows vaguely that she's a bad guy, or at least in opposition to Arthur. In BBC Merlin, she's a troubled but basically good young woman turned evil witch; in Starz Camelot, she is Arthur's scheming half-sister; in both the Marvel and DC comics, she's a seductive supervillainess. There are other modern adaptations--usually feminist ones--that make her a hero or at least an ambiguous character, but her default state in the cultural consciousness is "villain."

There's a long tradition of Morgan as villain, dating back to French romances of the middle ages. But the tradition of Morgan herself is older still; the character appears, in one form or another, in works as early as Geoffrey of Monmouth's Vita Merlini, circa 1150. But in Morgan's earliest appearances, she is not a villain. She's a healer and a priestess. Though she retains these qualities to some extent in later versions, Morgan's villainy was fundamentally a distortion of her character.

Of course, Arthurian legend is riddled with examples like this. The story of King Arthur has been told approximately ten million and five times, and no two adaptations present the characters and the story in exactly the same way. Over the course of a thousand years, every element, from cast and theme straight on down to plot, has shifted drastically.

I think that when some people hear about a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, they think of it the way they think of a film adapted from a book. They think about it like Harry Potter--if the films had made Hermione into a cunning villain, there would have been a revolt.

They should be thinking about it like King Arthur. Yes, unlike Arthurian legend, there is a single canonical source for all Sherlock Holmes adaptations. But the stories have been told thousands of times in endless contexts. The characters occupy a different space in the cultural consciousness than they do in the original stories. They're more legend than fiction, now. New adaptations do not merely draw from the stories; they draw from the legend. New adaptations do not merely retell the stories; they expand, explain, and adapt them.

Perhaps, after all these years, it's time we let them.

Monday, May 13, 2013

I'm actually a big fan of Clara's style.

Okay, so I sometimes mention that I'm not a huge fan of Steven Moffat. It's possible that there's a huge long post about that coming one of these days, but for now I have a brief example that I think is hard to argue with. Even if it's also unbelievably trivial.

The most recent episode of Doctor Who, which I was mostly very fond of, ends with a little monologue from the Doctor to himself about Clara.

In the Doctor's monologue, he says this of Clara:
A mystery wrapped in an enigma squeezed into a skirt that's just a bit too... tight.
Now. You may think I'm about to go on a feminist rant, and while that would be a valid direction, that's not my real problem here.  Here are Clara Oswald's outfits from "The Bells of St. John" to "Nightmare in Silver," excluding the Victorian dress from "The Crimson Horror."

"The Bells of Saint John"

"The Rings of Akhaten"

"Cold War"

"Hide"

"Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS"

"Nightmare in Silver"

Now, as you can clearly see, Clara doesn't wear tight skirts. She wears floaty skirts. Steven Moffat (or maybe Neil Gaiman, the episode's writer--either way, Moffat signed off on it, but please let this have been Moffat's addition to the script) just wanted to make his little mildly sexist joke, and contradicted established characterization to do it.

Mildly sexist jokes aren't worth contradicting established characterization. If you absolutely must make one, why not say Clara's skirt is just a little bit too short? That at least aligns with some recognizable version of reality, even if it's still, you know, sexist. And wrong.

(P.S. Clara Oswald is super awesome and would definitely agree with this post.)