I confess to being largely disappointed by the quality of the episodes themselves: a lot of ideas with potential, but the execution consisted of way too much running down dim corridors for me, while key elements of plot and character were left muddied and muddled and underwritten. (I mean, I wanted to like "The Girl Who Died" / "The Woman Who Lived" so much! Humans who become immortal are one of my favorite things! Maisie Williams was delightful! And yet…I never quite felt that I knew Ashildr well enough to be totally invested when she forgets who she is and becomes Me, to actually feel the loss of her. Maybe if we'd spent less time on broad comedy about Vikings who can't fight, and more time establishing who she was and why she loved her village, I would have cared more when she couldn't remember either one.)
But I think my overarching intellectual and emotional disconnect from the season - and the last one - has to do with the nature of the Twelfth Doctor, too. It's no secret that I think Moffat writes his best Who when he's writing it as a comedy. Not just when he's writing humor - although one of the reasons that "The Husbands of River Song" is a welcome breath of fresh air is that Moffat seems to be back on his game, writing those screwball rhythms for River and the Doctor. But comedy: comedy is about hope, about dancing faster than death can catch you, about our better angels winning out. And seasons 8 and 9 are mostly tragic. Season 9 in particular is all about the Doctor going too far and being justly punished, and that's Greek tragedy; even if Moffat can't avoid putting a little fillip of death-cheating on top, for Clara, the cherry can't disguise the makeup of the whole sundae.
And in Twelve, he seems to be trying to write a Doctor who has Rules About Time - temporal strictures that shade into becoming moral and ethical ones. And breaking those rules leads to tragedy. (This seems to be what's going on in "Under the Lake" / "Before the Flood": the Doctor is tempted to break the rules of time to save Clara, even though he won't even do that to save himself. But the episode is - again - muddy enough that I can't figure out exactly what rule he's tempted to break, since Clara, unlike O'Donnell, hasn't yet died. It feels, in retrospect, like the episode is trying for foreshadowing that the setup hasn't actually earned.) And when the Doctor breaks those rules, he is punished, and he declares, in the S9 finale, that this is right. Moffat even brings in the Sisterhood of Karn to declare that the Doctor, in trying to save Clara, is breaking every rule he's ever lived by - to give that statement narrative weight and grandeur (weight and grandeur that I don't think it earns otherwise, because…well, see below).
Except…? Not that long ago, the Doctor was Eleven - and while I'm sure that Eleven has rules about time, his entire tenure as the Doctor is about figuring out just when and where one can bend and break those rules. One could certainly argue that it's only when he accepts his own death that the universe allows him to cheat its way out of it, so there is a moral angle to his bending of the temporal rules. And there are, of course, things that even the Doctor cannot change or "fix," the death of Vincent Van Gogh being one of the most memorable. But Eleven's rallying cry is "Time can be rewritten" - comedy, not tragedy - and how do you go from a universe where that is true, to one where it isn't, without ever giving a reason? How do you go from a universe where Eleven can unhappen the destruction of Gallifrey, to one where no one can be saved from death, without explaining what changed? How can I believe that the Twelfth Doctor's only recourse is to break every rule he's ever lived by, when the Eleventh Doctor would have slipped merrily out of those rules' grasp? (Or at least he would have tried and failed: that's more or less what happens in "The Angels Take Manhattan.") It's like Moffat wants to write a story about someone like "Waters of Mars" Ten, full of hubris and engaging in reckless, selfish tyranny against the laws of time (even if we are moved by why he does it), having forgotten that in between, the Doctor has been far more trickster than tyrant.
There seem to be a couple of deliberate callbacks to Ten in this series: the finale also touches on Ten's decision to wipe Donna's memory rather than let her die on her own terms - only here, he is (again) punished for his arrogance instead. And Twelve finally "remembers" why he gave himself a familiar face for this regeneration, that of Caecilius from "Fires of Pompeii": it's supposed to be a reminder to save the people he can, even if he can't save everyone. Only that backfires too: has he really saved Ashildr, or condemned her to something terrible? I'm not sure - but what really puzzles me is the decision to say "I need to be reminded to save people" in this episode, only to go on throughout the season to suggest that saving people is impossible, could fracture the universe, and deserves punishment. What?
(I should say that I think the critiques of the Doctor's decision are spot-on: Me's "We have no right to change who she is"; Clara's own "Tomorrow isn't promised to anyone, but I insist upon my past." I just don't understand the need or the decision to make the storytelling decisions that got us to that point - where the Doctor needs the critique - in the first place.)
I can understand feeling the need to scale back on the idea that time can be rewritten - or even just to want to try your hand at writing something new. But you still need to set up the new rules in a coherent way, first, and I don't feel like that ever happened with Twelve.
Also…I'm just going to quote myself here, because it's easier. From my post on the S8 finale:
If season 5 ends with the myth of Pandora's box - as I said back then, "a box full of monsters and hope," so very like the TARDIS - season 8 ends with the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. If Amy is Sleeping Beauty inside the Pandorica (though waiting for her own childhood self, not the kiss of a prince), the promise of that story is that Sleeping Beauty eventually awakens. And Amy and Rory have always had "Tam Lin" echoes for me, because Amy loves and claims Rory so stubbornly that nothing can take him from her, not even time. But Orpheus and Eurydice is about the fact that the dead cannot return, no matter how much you try to win them back. The Ponds are miracle-makers, even if those miracles are sometimes imperfect (Amy and Rory do get to raise Melody in some way, even if it isn't the way they wanted), but there's no miracle for Eurydice. Clara doesn't get Danny back.
So what's the story of S9, then? In some ways, it's still Orpheus and Eurydice. And that's very much a story worth telling - but it's also definitely not a comedy or a fairy tale. And Moffat's telling that story in seasons 8 and 9 still feels like an arbitrary switch-flip - "okay, the universe is now like this" - rather than a set of situations carefully constructed so that these stories had to turn out this way. I'm sure I'd still be pretty Not My Scene about the change, but it would feel like it made more sense to me, at least.
And I have found Demetrius like a jewel,
Mine own, and not mine own.
No Fear version:
I won Demetrius so easily, as if he were a precious diamond I just found lying around. It’s mine because I found it, but I feel like someone else could easily come and claim it was hers.
…what. These lines are about wonder, about something glimmering and awestruck, and to translate them like that…the mind just boggles.
I suppose this is related to one of the things that often frustrates me about productions of Shakespeare's comedies, though: no one has remembered to tell the actors that their characters actually enjoy wit and wordplay, instead of just rolling their eyes at it, or trying to gabble through it as quickly as possible because they think the audience won't get it (which is a tried and tested method of making sure the audience doesn't get it, of course).
The book is by Bart Van Es, and is set to come out in March 2016. No word on whether it has a particular angle on the comedies or not.
'One audience member tried to punch an actor': the battle to shake up Shakespeare
For Kneehigh’s Emma Rice, soon to take over at the Globe, it’s all about storytelling. When she staged Cymbeline – “an impenetrable text” – they changed the script freely. Imogen’s alter-ego became Ian, not Fidele. “It’s not the text that’s leading,” says artistic director Emma Rice, “but it is the story.”
The response was, at times, vitriolic. Critics pooh-poohed it. They weren’t alone. “Late in the run, one audience member tried to punch an actor.” There is, she believes, a level of protectionism. (Witness, too, the recent fuss over moving “To be or not to be” in Hamlet at the Barbican.) “It’s guarded by the few people that have dedicated their lives to understanding it’s [sic] richness, but 99% of people who come and watch a play have not made that pact. If we’re to keep telling stories, we have to change them.”
As one of those people who has dedicated her life to understanding Shakespeare, I suppose (that sounds so silly), I don't think I'm protective of Shakespeare, as such - but it's sort of like historical drama about real people: most of the "innovations" made in the guise of "freshening up" the story are not as interesting or dramatically satisfying as the original, and often feel like they've just been pasted on top and don't spring naturally from the material. (grumble mutter Tilbury speech in Elizabeth: The Golden Age mutter grumble.)
(Just as an aside: haven't directors been moving "To be or not to be" around for ages? Did they put it someplace really weird at the Barbican? Like in a shoe or something?)
...Also, is the name "Fidele" particularly impenetrable? (I recognize that this is only a small example, and probably not one that Emma Rice actually gave.) I mean, I don't know what the name "Ian" means, either, but if you tell me that's a character's name, I will accept it and move on. I also don't know anyone named Posthumus Leonatus, either, so… At a certain point, Shakespeare is just not our contemporary - and that's okay, I think. It's okay that parts of Shakespeare are strange to us, as long as the company putting on the play creates a world for us in which they make sense. (This is actually why I think a lot of modernized Shakespeare doesn't quite work, even though there might be a lot of good things about the production; the director hasn't really given us a reason that cellphones and duels over honor exist in the same place - even though there's no reason that they couldn't; but you have to make it feel natural somehow.)
Then there's this bit:
It’s telling that these alternative companies are often shunted towards Shakespeare’s lighter, fanciful fare: the Tempest’s magic, Comedy of Errors’s anarchy, Cymbeline’s fairytale. It’s mostly a case of matchmaking – suit the play to the players – but it’s problematic too, a case of pigeonholing artists.
Why are Hamlet and Othello the preserve of big-name actors and mainstream directors? What might an alternative approach to the Histories look like? It’s almost patronising. Do what you will with Twelfth Night, but keep your hands off Titus Andronicus.
“Nick Hytner asked us to do A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the National,” remembers Simon McBurney. “I thought ‘Fuck that.’ Everybody wants to see Complicite’s fairies. I decided to take a really political play instead.” He ended up directing Measure for Measure and, shortly after 9/11, putting Paul Rhys’s Claudio into a high-security prison in an orange jumpsuit.
Shunted. Shakespeare's lighter, fanciful fare. Because comedies are just for lesser artists and chumps, of course. (Also, oooooh, an orange jumpsuit! Bring me my smelling salts!) And I would say this, but Twelfth Night is actually really hard to get right. I have seen a lot of dismal productions of this play, precisely because everyone thinks it's just an easy lark, and forgets that it's a play about a miracle. /the same Twelfth Night rant that I give all the time
(I have still never seen a live professional production of Midsummer, because my life makes no sense, but I think it has the same problems, based on the filmed versions I've seen: people think it's easy because it's got fairies and kids perform in it or get taken to see it, and they completely forget that it needs to have an actual heart to work properly. Playing all the lovers as actually interchangeable ciphers, or not letting us sympathize with what is for Hermia and Helena real pain, or playing Titania in love with Bottom so broadly that her love doesn't resemble any real emotion, just kills the play for me; I can't laugh at it when I don't care about it. I think people think that it should be the opposite - if the emotions are real, then they won't be funny - but for me, at least, comedy doesn't work when there aren't people involved. /shoddily disguised dissertation rant )
It gets tricky when they run into the one factor that so many romantic comedies put off until the very last minute: They like each other. That's pretty much his pitch after she says they shouldn't mix romance and work. "Do you like me?" he asks. "Yeah," she answers. "Yeah, see, I really like you."
Consider how weird it is that Hollywood romantic comedies so often position love as something that happens to people who don't like each other. This winds up being Trainwreck's most unexpectedly audacious idea. For adults, it's the ones you like that get complicated, not the ones you fight with for an hour and a half and then kiss in the rain.
(Seriously, how often is this my rant about rom-coms? So often!)
Exhibit B, Twitter:
Or you could stop assuming "rom-com" is an insult and call the thing what, sorry, IT IS. https://t.co/yMmEBzKvnm— Linda Holmes (@nprmonkeysee) July 19, 2015
BRINGING UP BABY is a rom-com. THE LADY EVE is largely one too. COME AT ME, GENRE HATERS.— Linda Holmes (@nprmonkeysee) July 19, 2015
Don't hate a whole kind of movie because you're a bad flirt. #fin— Linda Holmes (@nprmonkeysee) July 19, 2015
It's no joke: Emerson College now offering a comedy major
(I am trying to decide whether I am likely to want to reread Landline, or whether I should sell it [back] to the bookstore.)
4 August 2014
On Sunday morning, I caught David Edelstein talking about films that were released or available on-demand instead of in the cinema, in case your local cinema was only playing Guardians of the Galaxy and you didn’t have any (his words) “grownup-friendly” theaters nearby. I probably wouldn’t have thought anything beyond “Well, that was unnecessarily rude; just because you might well want an alternative doesn’t mean that the film isn’t for grownups,” if I hadn’t read Linda Holmes’ review of the film the other day, in which she commented that it’s really the only out-and-out comedy among the Marvel superhero movies (as opposed to “action movie with quips or occasionally funny moments”). With that in mind, it really stood out that among the “grown-up” movies Edelstein recommended, there wasn’t one real comedy – though there were two whole biting satires of modern life. And one of the movies was Snowpiercer, so I guess action films are allowed to be for grownups as long as they don’t look like they come from comic books or make people laugh?
Noticing when people are dismissive about comedy is kind of an inadvertent, hair-pulling sort of hobby of mine by this point, but it’s because I still can’t quite get over how often and how casually it happens: the way critics so often behave as though pure, enjoyable comedy is something we’re supposed to leave behind in our toy-boxes when we reach whatever age counts as “adult” these days (though black comedy is still okay – ooh, how subversive!). Linda Holmes (weekly reminder: I love Linda Holmes) had a great line in her Guardians review about the way that humorlessness masquerades as seriousness, and I think that’s true. Critics often treat films that seek to entertain – as opposed to provoke or discomfit – as morally suspect; they use words like “lull” and “pabulum,” as though reality is one-hundred percent grim and joyless, as though even if that were true, we wouldn’t deserve to dream about anything different. (This is also the way critics talk disapprovingly about adults reading YA novels, though there they often use “readability” alongside entertainment as the thing that is vaguely suspect and something you really should have grown out of wanting by now). It’s the inexplicable opprobrium heaped on the concept of “escapism” – as though every act of reading or watching doesn’t already involve consenting to leave your version of reality for a while and experience someone else’s (so why is it unexceptionable to experience the reality of a middle-class, middle-aged man dreaming of adultery, but problematic and immature to experience the reality of a teenage girl trying to figure out what she’s going to make of what life has handed her?); as though it’s terribly weak and childish to want to be comforted or uplifted or made to laugh – to be reminded that there can be joy and fun and love in the world.
I figured out why I never really warmed to Neal in Rainbow Rowell’s Landline, which I really liked a lot of things about: in part, it’s because he basically dismisses his girlfriend-and-then-wife Georgie’s ambitions to write comedy. (On the whole, the problem that I had with Landline is the problem that I have with the end of Notting Hill and the Barrymore/Fallon version of Fever Pitch: the relationship always felt unbalanced to me, and the person who winds up making the big, romantic gesture at the end was not the person who was the most in need of changing his or her ways. I think I was supposed to feel like Georgie was always putting her career ahead of her family, but I never felt that way: sure, she was rushed and busy, and sure, Neal was the stay-at-home parent, but it wasn’t like Georgie was constantly skipping out on family vacations or anything, and I didn’t appreciate the way Neal acted like she was, or the way he got all passive-aggressive about their relationship. But the dismissiveness probably sealed the deal; he’s essentially on record as saying that the thing that mattered most to the person he loved was worthless...which would have bothered me even if the thing Georgie cared about weren’t comedy.)
Neal and Georgie meet because he’s a cartoonist for the college humor magazine, which Georgie writes for – which is background for this exchange, in which Georgie tells him he could be a cartoonist for a living:
“I couldn’t do this for a living.” He gave the woodchuck he was drawing a cigar. “It’s just messing around – it’s just doodling.”
“So you wouldn’t want to be Matt Groening?”
“With all due respect, no.”
Neal shrugged. “I want to do something real. I want to make a difference.”
“Making people laugh is real.”
The corner of his mouth twitched. “I’ll let you take up that mantle.”
“Do you think that comedy is just messing around, too?”
“Honestly?” he asked.
“Of course, honestly.”
“Then yes.” (pp. 117-8)
To be fair, Georgie challenges him on this point (“You think my dreams are a waste of time? / “I think your dreams would be a waste of my time”), but it was too late – Neal was one of those people. You know, the ones who think comedy is pointless, that it doesn’t provide any real value to the world. (The ones who choose the Oscar winners.) It turns out, unsurprisingly, that I believe exactly what Georgie believes: making people laugh is real. Letting people dream is real. Giving people a good time is real. And yes, comedy can often be challenging and subversive – laughing can make you think; it can disarm you so that the truth can creep in – but I dislike defending ‘my’ genre on those terms, because it suggests that comedy is only valuable if it does those things, and I don’t agree. Comedy is a valid mode of looking at the world, full stop. It may not be the whole story – but neither is tragedy, and tragedy never has to defend itself because it left out the humor, the way that comedy is constantly being dismissed and called to heel because it isn’t tragedy.
This is about the time that I start yelling about Much Ado’s Beatrice and childbirth and dancing stars – yelling that comedy is a choice, a willed orientation toward possibility, not just a naïve inability to see things the way they really are. When Beatrice is told that she must have been born in a merry hour, she replies by acknowledging two equally valid truths: “No, sure, my lord, my mother cried. But then there was a star danced, and under that was I born.” Simply responding with “my mother cried” would still have been a joke, turning the other person’s response inside-out – but it would have been tragedy, even cynicism: everything in life is pain and tears. (“When we are born, we cry that we are come / To this great stage of fools,” says Lear.) But the dancing star, opening your eyes wide enough to see that such a thing existed at the same moment? Not letting the darkness blind you to the presence of the light? That’s comedy.
When I’m feeling particularly grand and earnest, I like to think that maybe comedy makes us a little bit impervious: that if we can find a way to laugh at a thing, it hurts us less, knocks a little of the stuffing out of whatever that thing is. But one of the reasons that it’s so hard to talk about comedy, I think, is that it doesn’t just do that one thing – or have any one single goal in mind, when it comes down to it. Tragedy is easy, by comparison: it’s actually a far more rigid structure than comedy (even though comedy is the one that gets accused of being “formulaic” or “conventional,” like tragedy doesn’t have a formula); it’s all about catharsis and watching the precipitous fall of the hero or antihero. (“For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground / And tell sad stories of the death of kings.”) Which isn’t to dismiss the work that it does: after all, if you’re Richard II telling those sad stories, you can derive some comfort from knowing you are “not all alone unhappy” (to mix genres for a second and quote from As You Like It), and even find strength to bear up under your tragedy. But comedy is buoyant and slippery and protean, and I’m not sure it has a one-size-fits-all reason for being. That’s why comedy benefits from adjectives – romantic, situational, stand-up – because they’re actually separate things that all happen to have the capability to make us laugh. (Tragedy's adjectives tell us where a thing takes place, or the major motor of the plot - domestic tragedy, revenge tragedy - but I don't think they operate by rules that are as different as, say, the sitcom and the romcom, even though these things borrow from each other and get lumped together.)
It may be a comedy - but don't worry guys, we can still take it seriously! It's okay, don't be scared!
In less ranty remarks - seeing these Globe clips makes me sad that I didn't like this production, because I thought it started well… (Though I'm pretty sure I just don't like Pearce Quigley - who played Bottom; he's been in a couple of Globe productions, and he just says all of his lines in pretty much the exact same almost-monotone in an attempt to be funny.)
--Just out of curiosity, are there any "fairy experts" who are not Diane Purkiss? (I just remember being so disappointed in her book At the Bottom of the Garden…so much of it seemed to be about Scottish witch trials, in ways that weren't especially helpful.)
--Wait, did Hugh Bonneville just say that Shakespeare's father was the mayor of Stratford-upon-Avon? That is not even a thing that is TRUE. How hard is it to fact-check?
--At least Julie Taymor takes Helena seriously; that is sadly rare in this poor world.
--what's this? Is Hugh Bonneville talking about verse forms and rhyme??? Actual discussion of language? Wonders never cease.
I'm thinking about this slightly more than usual because I did two related things recently: I finished watching all of the episodes of Selfie that ABC put up on Hulu after canceling the show; and then, having felt the pangs of Karen Gillan-romcom withdrawal, rented Not Another Happy Ending on iTunes. Only one of these was really worth doing: I thought John Cho and Karen were delightful together on Selfie, and watching them develop a funny friendship was lovely. Not Another Happy Ending, on the other hand, was a romantic comedy in which the leads almost never shared scenes: there were two major scenes that should have been about interaction between them, to show us why we ought to root for them to get together at all, and the first one was a montage set to peppy pop music, while the second was drowned out by a pop ballad. In both scenes, instead of being able to hear anything of how they interacted - especially odd because the conceit of the film was that the male lead was supposed to "get" Karen's author character and provide her with excellent notes on her writing - all we could hear was someone else singing about something, as though the filmmakers didn't trust their own script, or the actors, enough to believe that their interactions would come across as convincing. Of course, not having any interaction at all in those scenes (at least not any audible ones) was even more unconvincing…
I know that romantic comedy relies heavily on a sort of alchemy between the material and the leads, and that mysterious thing known as chemistry - but why would you shoot yourself in the foot before you even had a chance by making decisions like that one?
(There was so much about this film that would have been so much better if they'd bothered to tell us anything about anything! Karen's character - Jane - has a broken relationship with her father because he abandoned her, and I guess she wrote about this in her first novel; then her father shows up at one of her book signings and they just…hug it out, like, "I haven't seen you in years, Dad, but that's fine"? I could have understood a story where Jane was so afraid that he might leave again that she wasn't willing to say anything, but they didn't really tell that story, or any other story, beyond a couple of part-for-the-whole anecdotes that didn't really work. Then Jane spends most of the movie hallucinating Darsie, the heroine of the new novel she's writing…which I guess is supposed to have some connection to Jane's life or something, but since no one ever tells us what this novel is about, or what kind of character Darsie is, that subplot goes absolutely nowhere. It's the strangest thing. Why would you expect any of this to have meaning if you left out any of the actual details and character development?)
I am very pleased that Midsummer seems to be getting a whole episode to itself - unlike the last series, which lumped AYLI and TN together with a couple of other random bits of cross-dressing and called it an episode on "the comedies," bah humbug.
I was away for the weekend, so I haven't gotten to see the new episode of Doctor Who. Instead, when I got home yesterday, I went back and watched “The Time of the Doctor” again – and realized that yes, I have been digging my heels in about Eleven’s departure, just sort of pretending that it hadn’t happened even though I’d seen his last episode months ago with my very own eyes. Part of that – probably the greater part – is that Eleven is my beloved space idiot, and Matt Smith brought such wonderful shadings to the role; I’ve written so much about both Eleven and Matt that it would be superfluous to repeat that here. But some of it is that in my mind, the Eleventh Doctor is so closely associated with Moffat Who, and particularly the things I’ve loved and valued so much about Moffat Who: the way that the show has leaned back toward joy and hope and redemption and possibility – regeneration, recreation – instead of trying so hard to turn the Doctor into yet another Tragic Hero. It means so much to me that despite the fact that Eleven is a trickster who will dodge death when he can, he also, nevertheless, faces his death at various points with acceptance, with gratitude for what he’s experienced in his long life, with tenderness toward the people he’s cared about – from cleaning up Craig’s house so he won’t get in trouble at the end of “Closing Time” to wanting to protect Clara one last time in “The Time of the Doctor.” It matters so much to me to have been given a Doctor who can call life a pile of good things as well as bad things and try to offer hope to Vincent van Gogh; who can comfort a grieving widow by telling her that her children’s happiness still matters even if – especially if – they’re going to be sad later; who believes that time can mend us instead of just destroying us; who promises in his last moments to remember who he’s been before embarking upon a new self, instead of comparing change to death and whimpering that he doesn’t want to go. It’s so important to me that the strongest thing the Doctor’s companions and friends often bring with them is love: love strong enough to face down Weeping Angels, to remember lost people back into the universe, to scatter themselves throughout time and call an entire unseen planet of Time Lords to account. They don’t need to take on some other power outside of themselves; they only need their own fierce and willing hearts. (“I won’t let them take him. That’s what we’ve got.”)
Faith, hope, and love, right? Those are the big three, and Moffat Who, for me, has had them in spades. An abandoned little girl who’s always afraid that everyone will leave her learns to stop running and believe that people will come back. A plastic Roman keeps a centuries-long vigil outside of a box, with all the steadfastness of his plastic human heart. And a lonely old man finds a place set at the table every Christmas in expectation of his coming, a village of children to dance the “drunk giraffe” with, a young woman who will pull open the Christmas cracker for him when his hands are too weak to do it on their own. (Did you ever notice how RTD’s Christmas specials were disaster movies, and Moffat’s are It’s a Wonderful Life?)
Anyway. What I realized is that somewhere in my subconscious, I think I’m worried that the end of Eleven-era Who will somehow be the end of all the things I’ve valued about Moffat Who - that changing the Doctor will mean changing the show in ways that I don’t want to happen: that it will become flintier, and colder, and less full of joy.
I did want to say one thing about “The Time of the Doctor” itself, though, that occurred to me while I was watching. We’ve seen a lot of examples of the way the Doctor hops in and out of people’s lives in Moffat Who, while others are stuck on the “slow path”: “The Girl in the Fireplace,” of course, from whence that phrase comes; “The Eleventh Hour,” where the Doctor breaks little Amelia’s heart by leaving her for twelve years when he only means to be gone for five minutes; “A Christmas Carol,” in which the Doctor leapfrogs from Christmas to Christmas in Kazran’s life, playing an ageless Peter Pan to that young boy’s changing Wendy; and on the grandest scale, the way the Doctor casually moves from moment to moment of the earth’s decay, in “Hide,” like the pages of a flipbook. We even see this a bit in “Blink,” where it’s Sally Sparrow who has to remind the elderly Billy Shipton that the rain outside his hospital window is the same rain in which they met, so many years and also only a few minutes ago.
So one of the things I really love about Eleven’s final episode is that for once, the tables are turned – it’s not just that he takes the slow path this time, but that for Clara, those hundreds and hundreds of years are happening in the space of a single Christmas dinner. How long does the Doctor protect the villagers on Trenzalore? Depends on how you decide to frame your answer: several centuries, and also about as long as it takes to cook a turkey.
"Romantic comedy, like some of the activities in which it ideally culminates, is something too many people believe they can do well with little effort."
Sing it, sister. All of those "why are romantic comedies so bad these days" articles could probably be boiled down to exactly this: the people making those romantic comedies think that the genre is easy. After all, all you have to do is put two people into a contrived setup, have them argue a little bit, add a pause for meaningful glaring, then have them kiss! Then contrived obstacle, then big gesture of winning the other person back, then kissyface and jazz hands! Give it a title that's a commonplace saying or part of a song lyric, like Till There Was You, and you're done!
None of those things are bad in and of themselves (after all, any genre has its repeated conventions), but if you treat the conventions as a paint-by-numbers formula, you get insipid and lackluster movies. Sometimes you can save a film with the charm of the leads, but if you can't get your "best" talent to work in the genre because nobody respects it and comedies don't win Oscars, then even charm is often in short supply. (My favorite actors almost never do films in my favorite genre. This makes me deeply sad.)
Anyway, has anybody seen any good (relatively recent) romantic comedies lately that I should know about?
I was having all of these "Moffat writes Who like a comedy" feelings this morning about the 50th, because ( spoilers for the 50th, but not the Christmas special )
And people always cite Austen, like these films are just part of a long lineage of jerk heroes who are irresistible to women, but that's actually what doesn't happen in Austen. Darcy is kind of a jerk, and Elizabeth is totally not having it, and then Darcy goes, "whoa, maybe I should stop being a jerk" (or, more properly, "maybe I should behave in a more gentleman-like manner"), and *then* Elizabeth starts to be interested in him. Emma and Mr. Knightley disagree archly about things, but it's always clear that they like and respect each other. (Don't mind me; I'm just perpetually over in a corner, clutching my face and wailing about "Your father will not be easy; why do not you go?") Henry Tilney is a total sass-face, but he's always kind to Catherine, even after she basically accuses his dad of murdering his mom. Edward Ferrars is an awkward little teapot who's engaged to another woman, but not a jerk, and Edmund Bertram trips over his own earnestness at regular intervals, but even when he's in love with someone else, he always loves and values and praises Fanny Price. I guess Wentworth is occasionally a tiny bit of a jerk to Anne, at first, but you know, there's a *reason* for it, since she broke his heart - which I'm not saying should give a guy the right to be a jerk, just that he's not being horrible to strangers for no reason, which is what seems to happen so often in romcoms. (And of course Wentworth actually does several nice things for Anne as the novel progresses, so.) It's like the people who make these movies once heard a garbled version of P&P and decided that the takeaway was "Step 1: insult a girl. Step 2: profit." And watching that, over and over again, just makes me feel frustrated and kind of deflated, like, *this* is the vision of romance we're supposed to aspire to? This is it? Because the underlying problem with this isn't *just* that I don't see how I'm supposed to root for a couple when I can't stand the male lead; it's that it gives us such an impoverished view of what romance and love are supposed to be. I've said this a million times, and I'll go on saying it; the most romantic line in P&P is "For herself she was humbled; but she was proud of him." It's not about some supposedly overwhelming "passion" or "attraction" that means that it doesn't matter what kind of guy he is or how he treats you or other people, because you can't *help* it, you're just *drawn* to him. It's about respect and esteem and all those words that romantic Marianne shudders at in S&S - all the stuff that is the basis of something so much more interesting than hitting the halfway point in your script and suddenly flipping the switch that says it's time for these characters who couldn't stand each other to suddenly have feelings for each other, because they *argued*, right, that must mean that they're secretly into each other! Look at all that passion! That's what romance is! Forget the kind but bland fiance; everyone knows there's gotta be a *spark*! We don't need common interests or civil conversations, just that *feeling*!
There's a scene in this movie, as there often is, where the leads have to pretend like they're married. And the film doesn't do *anything* with this premise, except to stage an excuse for someone to badger the "newlyweds" into kissing (because passion! Sparks! If you wanna know if he loves you so, it's in his kiss!). And I just thought, what a *waste*. Can you imagine what this would be like, if this were between two characters who had been forced into an awkward situation but who seemed to like each other? Who picked up the pretense and both decided to *play* with it, and with each other? Who tried on the roles of husband and wife and thereby learned something about each other and themselves and their fledgling relationship? Who, I don't know, crazy thought, had *fun* in each other's company? It could have been *awesome*. And instead it was just nothing, because all they did was kiss, and suddenly all the rancor between them was supposed to have just gone away. And by the end of the movie, when you're supposed to feel like they're a couple, all they could do was parrot little catchphrases from their car trip at each other, because they didn't have anything else in common. And it just makes me so *mad*, because I love romantic comedy (when you tell people you want to write a dissertation on Shakespeare's comedies, they think you're interested in capital-C Comedy, and want to know why you're not writing about city comedies or The Merry Wives of Windsor - but the thing is, it's the romantic comedies, the ones that are about interpersonal relationships, fathers and daughters, and cousins as close as sisters, as well as soon-to-be husbands and wives, that I care about). And I would like to watch some good ones, because the genre *does* actually have great roots; recent romcoms are NOT bad because the genre is stupid or full of repeated conventions. (Action movies are also full of conventions. Westerns are full of conventions. Bond films are full of conventions. Horror movies are full of conventions. That's what genre *is* - a sensibility, a set of concerns, and repeated conventions.) But they seem, persistently, to get made by lazy people who just don't care about the format.
GREY MATTERS: DOCTOR WHO's sublime study of grief, death and transfiguration continues to captivate its viewers
(Written in January 2012; discusses series 5 and 6.)
I sometimes say in shorthand that Moffat writes Doctor Who like a comedy (which I still think is true, even if a little less so in series 7, because goodbyes are always at least a little bit sad), which means that I tend to focus more on the elements of rebirth and reintegration in the show; this piece is in some way the flip side to that - how the show deals with death and comes to terms with it. Special mention for the reading of "Vincent and the Doctor"; though I wouldn't say that the episode is "really" about Amy's grief over Rory, I like the way the writer points out that the episode is *also* about that.
On Moffat, Misogyny, and Children’s Stories
“The Leopard of Little Breezes yawned up and farther off from the rooftops of Omaha, Nebraska, to which September did not even wave good-bye. One ought not to judge her: All children are heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one.” --Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
I read an old post on the internet about that perennial issue of Moffat’s misogyny in Doctor Who, which is a frustrating topic for me. It’s certainly not that I think Moffat has no issues at all – there are those stupid jokes about women and driving, for example – but I also think that the discussion is largely driven by people who don’t take into account either the prevalence of Moffat’s favorite story ideas with male characters as well, or the kinds of stories Moffat tells.
( cut for length - seriously, it's really long - but no spoilers for the finale, although Clara is mentioned in passing a few times )