Long, barren months after the last episode of Angel, I’m watching television again. Sunday was the second season premiere of Carniv?le. My housemate Andrew was kind enough to play host, and five of us squeezed in for the viewing. The show continued on directly from last season’s cliffhanger, and I confess I was a little deflated by the lack of surprises. Ruthie: alive. Sofie: alive. Apollonia: dead. Lodz: dead and tossed into a ditch. I kind of wonder if HBO took the results of the online survey they conducted last summer and applied them directly to the lineup of the show. Not that I am sad about the loss of those characters. I didn’t like them much. But design by committee (or survey) is almost never a good thing. I’m also a bit worried about the emphasis on the good vs. evil storyline (which is becoming less subtle all the time), and sickened by the incest theme that is building re: Justin and his sister Iris. Still, I’ll be watching next week to see what they come up with in the second episode, which won’t have as many storytelling constraints placed on it.
After Carniv?le, we saw a preview for a new series about aspiring Hollywood actors called Unscripted, produced by Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney. I was intrigued, because Soderbergh has made some great films and always seems willing to experiment. Also, I’ve enjoyed a couple of George Clooney movies recently (Three Kings, Ocean’s Eleven), and to my surprise I’m coming to respect the guy. We didn’t watch the show then, but later Andrew taped it for me. Tonight I watched the first two episodes. The premise is similar to that of K Street, the pseudo-documentary about Washington, DC political consultants that Soderbergh and Clooney produced last year. Some actors play themselves, some play completely fictional roles. And sometimes the filmed material affects reality. (An early episode of K Street featured one of the consultants/stars giving guest Howard Dean a line that he then used in a real political event the next week. In a similar vein, one can easily see how appearing in Unscripted could affect the careers of its struggling actors.) The line between “real” and “fictional” is intentionally blurred. Occasionally I felt the editors straining to stitch shots together in a way that would seem meaningful, but there were moments that really affected me. Most involved the actress Krista Allen, who is sadly but persistently trying to move beyond her past as a soft-core porn star and land serious movie roles. She tries to resist the cheesecake assignments her agent wants to give her (“Do I have to wear a bathing suit?”), but even after receiving assurances, she shows up for the audition and is told to try on bikinis. And at that point how can she refuse without being an asshole? And there is quite a bit of money associated, after all… The second episode ended with her meeting with a producer who, it turned out, wanted to cast her 6-year-old son Jake rather than her in one of his movies. She returned home to think about it and put the videotape of her son in the VCR. He was so open and charming with the woman interviewing him that Krista (and I) started laughing happily.
I’m still thinking about this semi-fictional storytelling style. In a way, it reminds me of the complete falseness of the reality TV fad — pretending to be real when most of the “reality” is created in the editing room. But at the same time, it reminds me that the lives we live day to day are given their drama by the way we edit them in our heads. How real are we? Are we stories we tell ourselves as we’re falling asleep?
Orson and I have also been watching the first season of Dead Like Me on DVD. The premise of the show — a young woman becomes a grim reaper after her spectacular accidental death — was not interesting to me, but my friend Meg brought the set over so I decided to give it a try. I’m really happy I did. The premise is still not that interesting, but the scripts and acting are very sharp. Orson and I watched four episodes last night, and there were a couple of scenes I really thought were genius. (That’s a high ratio for my overly critical tastes.) Today when searching on the internet I found out that the show has been cancelled after its second season. Of course. At least I have 15+ episodes left to watch. And you should, too.
This is my last media note. I have known for over a year that two of my favorite artists were meeting, indirectly, in a film project: Hayao Miyazaki has been working on an adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones‘s Howl’s Moving Castle. Much as I respect Miyazaki, I was a bit worried about how the movie would turn out. As far as I could tell, he had never read any of Jones’s books before beginning the project. And unless someone high up in the production has a real understanding of the work being adapted, films don’t tend to be faithful to the original works. (As a case study, see the recent adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin‘s first two Earthsea novels on SciFi. Or better yet, don’t.)
Given my worries, I was delighted to read the following report from Diana Wynne Jones in the latest Ansible newsletter:
Miyazaki came in person, carrying with him a tape of the film, an interpreter and sundry other shadowy figures (all this was supposed to be secret for fear of the Japanese media, who then descended on me afterwards, so I couldn’t mention it beforehand) and we had a private showing at the
Watershed cinema. The film is goluptuously splendid with breathtaking animation. I had grown used to young ladies regularly writing to me to say that they wanted to marry Howl. Now, Howl in the film is so plain stunning and sexy that I think I have joined them. And after the showing and the scamper through Bristol I had a long talk with Mr Miyazaki and it began to seem that we were soulmates.
Sometimes things do come out right after all.