Last year Leverage, now it’s White Collar

The irony, I wrote the below, then went to Netflix… and found out the license for this show expired today on Netflix. Which pretty much cancels out all of the fun. Way to go content licensing, way to go being stuck in the middle of a season.

So doing the Netflix shuffle on what’s good and fun to watch, and last year saw a fun series called Leverage, staring Timothy Hutton. My first exposure to him was his role in a television version of several of the Nero Wolfe books, for which he does an excellent Archie Goodwin. Leverage had him rounding up a gang of thieves in the Ocean’s Eleven style and helping people out.

White Collar has been in my current Netflix list, and it’s been some rather fun watching. It’s marked as similar to Leverage, but there are a couple parts to it that I’d like to point out as why it’s different, and why it’s a fun show.

First instead of having a full team of assorted talents, there’s really just the two main characters, the con-man and the FBI agent. They each have a surrounding team of various sizes, but that’s unimportant. It’s really more buddy cop, just one person is a criminal. They play off each other very well.

The con-man, forger, Neal, gives a reminiscence of Timothy Hutton’s character in Leverage, but with the charm and youth and looks of Hutton in his younger Archie Goodwin role. Neal’s actor is one of those guys who is ridiculously “symmetrical” as one person in the show puts it, but the act he puts on lets you forgive that detail. And his interactions with the FBI agent, Peter, tend to be refreshing.

The show itself has a couple elements in the writing that I enjoy. They are a “weekly” show instead of a continuous one, so they have some standalone episodes. That’s not something I normally care for, however there is an underlying developing plot that keeps the story moving in the background through the episodes and seasons. Again, since it’s a weekly that doesn’t necessarily move quickly, but they do sprinkle enough in the non-dedicated episodes that there’s no need to skip over any “filler” content. That and each episode’s story will stand alone well enough. And then every so often you do get a dedicated episode to the plot, so the pacing is rather decent for a cable weekly.

It’s a USA Network show, and those have always been somewhat fun, like Monk and Psych. I never really cared for Burn Notice, but all the USA Network stuff has a common theme in general, and their focus on Police Procedural with a “twist” has usually made for some good watching.

I’m still running through what’s online and haven’t finished, but apparently the fifth season ended earlier, but they have now planned a 6-episode season 6.

It’s been fun enough to come here and write a small update, so I’d consider this a recommendation of what to watch when you’re looking for a fun Police Procedural that still has a plot, and the entire family can watch it.

Posted in Reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Villains, how do you take them, bad or with a side of sympathy?

Me?

I want mine with no redemption. Gimme a good-old bad guy.

I like the old-school “try to take over the world – just because I want to” villains, and have been bothered by the number of “the world should end because the world let my daughter die and I’m so depressed” pseudo-villains that have become more common.

Take note though (definitions are important), an antagonist is different. In several of my favorite stories the Protagonist and Antagonist resolve their issues near the end of the story and work together to defeat a real nemesis. Sometimes the evil one can be an antagonist (or in some cases even a protagonist, while the hero working on the side of good is the antagonist), but that doesn’t change what their motivation should be: true evil.

It’s fiction, after all, and it doesn’t have to be realistically complicated with moral ambiguity. Just my preference.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Review: Due South

Last year I finished watching the full four seasons of Due South. Beginning to end. It was a pleasure to be in such fine company as the characters portrayed.

To begin with, Due South has is almost unique in all the western shows I have seen. For example, the Japanese stuff I watch are mostly single-season series. Some are based on longer written or serialized works and thus are abridged or just contain the first few books, but for a good number they are simply created as one-season shows. They’ll either be three months, six months, or a year. Some are longer. And very rarely they’ll continue on.

In the western world it is different. Most shows that get put on the air in the western world are made with serialization in mind, to form a series and a continued viewership.

What does this have to do with Due South? Simply put, it is one of the few western shows I’ve seen that wasn’t cancelled, nor was it because the course of the plot had run out. In fact, it’s quite interesting how Due South came about as a series.

It was a made-for-tv movie. And then it gathered fans, who asked for more, and so a series was created. It ran. And then when that series was over, people still wanted more. And so they made more. Due South was never cancelled. It was only expanded until it had reached four seasons. That in itself is astounding. Just that background adds something to the intrigue of it. But that story about it’s expansion is mostly a byproduct of the actual material.

Due South concerns Benton Fraser, a Canadian mountie. He first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of his father… and if you’ve seen the show you’ll know the next few lines. It’s repeated often, the statement about how he stayed on with the consulate, a liaison and helper for the Chicago PD. It becomes a running joke throughout the series. As the seasons go on and the characters change, that line appears again and again.

Due South is so enjoyable because of that line. Not because it is said over and over. But because of the inside joke it symbolizes. The entire show is one big joke. Benton is superhuman at times, and by the final season the writers simply go with it, letting their imagination run wild at times, but never to an excessive degree. By that I mean there will only be one or two completely impossible events happen per episode, rather than other shows that may harp on it too much.

They never overdose you on the superhuman. Certainly, some of the doses are stronger, and played for comedic effect, but the show plays most of its jokes quite straight. Paul Gross, the actor who plays Fraser, and who later directs the latter seasons, does a fantastic job of doing absolutely fantastic things with the straightest face on his character. Much of that is his character’s insane politeness.

Let us speak of politeness. And the running jokes. Benton Fraser, a Canadian, is very polite. And courteous. And a gentleman. And nearly perfect, as perfect could be. That too, is a joke. One played by the show in very interesting ways. Fraser will politely ask a group of people pointing guns at him to drop their weapons because their firearms may be illegal. He’ll hold doors open for everyone. He is courteous to all.

So when someone doesn’t believe him, or the things he’s saying, his partner looks at the guy and says “He’s Canadian,” suddenly the person has this look of understanding, knows that Fraser is telling the truth, and immediately accepts it. And thus the plot for that episode continues.

These are just a couple examples, but they stand out to me. It’s hard to quantify their meanings in words, and I also don’t wish to spoil anything. For if there is a show worth watching, it is Due South. It’s a buddy-cop flick, with a touch of Superman, a dash of straight-laced comedy, and all-around feel-good watching.

There’s a lack of watchable stuff that plays itself so well that you feel good at the end of each episode. That you watch because you know it’ll be good time and again. Due South fills that gap. No wonder it wasn’t cancelled. The world needed more of it.

Posted in Reviews | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Long books

There was something I just saw posted on LinkedIn that raises my ire. People talking about the length of books for kids. With them thinking that kids between 7 and 10 should have shorter works. You know, ones that keep their attention, don’t have too complicated plots, and give a sense of accomplishment.

What a woeful thought! Are we trying to give our children ADD? Or are we just assuming that every child can’t hold their attention for more than a couple minutes? Do we think that children forget about something they haven’t finishing reading in a single day?

My my my. I would have loved to have had some of the really long stuff as a child. In fact, I did read mostly longer stuff. Because I read it all so quickly. When you’re done with a 28 page (that was recommended by one person!) book in a couple minutes (the words are bigger too, because apparently children’s eyes are worse than adult’s….), you want something more.

I read when I was in school. Because there was nothing else to do. Lessons? Teacher gave a few, then assigned us some work to do for the rest of the class. That work? Done by the time the teacher finished explaining how to do it. Homework? Done in the next class in the few minutes before the teacher starts speaking.

So what do you do? Read. Tons upon tons of reading. So much so that teachers get annoyed. Of course they can’t complain when you’re already done with the work and have a B+ or A average.

But don’t teachers assign so much work nowadays kids can’t keep up and thus won’t have time to read?

If you, as a child, read voraciously, chances are your reading level and comprehension are higher than average… which leads to completing any schoolwork quicker, which gives more time for reading.

I do happen to like longer works. I always have. Series are my favorite because they are essentially long books. Kids are people too. They get attached to characters too, and want to see those characters do more stuff. Which means either more books… or longer good ones.

Shorter books for young kids to hold their attention? My younger self is crying.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Character’s that don’t listen are just imitating people in real life

I read something odd. It was a short book about people having these verbal battles with each other on a psychological level.

It wasn’t all that great, because each time one of the characters said something true about the other person that they didn’t want to hear, the person was upset by it and annoyed at it’s truth.

That doesn’t mimic real life at all. It hasn’t for much of history.

“But James, if they said something true, and the other person was annoyed at it because it was true, I don’t see what your point is. Of course they were annoyed at hearing a real weakness pointed out, it was true!”

Oh no no no, it was true, yes, but no, the person listening doesn’t need to recognize it as truth. Saying something true, about anything, doesn’t ever guarantee you that the other person will recognize it as fact.

So having characters use other people’s weaknesses in a verbal battle against them doesn’t really work for me, because I know real people will get offended at hearing the “truth,” and will claim it to be a lie.

You can even show them proof, and it won’t matter, a proof doesn’t change an obstinate person from believing their own version of reality, no matter how false it may be.

I like some of the stuff I wrote in The Lupine Chevalier. I know some will probably read it and be annoyed that it didn’t go in the direction the previous writings indicated, and how I reveal to the audience various truths that the characters somehow get close to realizing, but don’t at the times expected. The audience may also note that things were forgotten by characters. That they’ll listen to lies even when they have doubts. Because that’s the way people are.

What brought this on? Just seeing an example of it around 2500 years ago, and laughing at how humans haven’t really changed. In the book of Jeremiah (in the Bible, the old testament – and your belief in the Bible doesn’t matter here, just take a look at the example for what it is), Jeremiah spends his life prophesying, stating what God has intended. And he started decades before some of the prophesies began to be fulfilled. So he has years of people not believing, claiming he’s a liar, claiming he’s not from God, etc.

And then it happens, just like he said. And now, with complete and utter proof before them, everything happening just like Jeremiah said, what do those people who claimed Jeremiah a liar say? Do they, upon seeing a fact, a proof, evidence, truth, realize Jeremiah was telling the truth?

To paraphrase them: “Oh why did we stop sacrificing to the ‘goddess of the heavens’ (a false god), because we did all this calamity fell!”

Pretty deserving of a palm to the forehead. And yet, we see the same thing today. People who don’t listen are quite common. So, characters that don’t listen in the face of overwhelming truth… well, maybe they do listen, after all… it’s fiction.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment