Television

The strong finish for Magnum p.i.

In a previous post, I noted that by the end of its sixth season, Magnum p.i. was creatively exhausted.
 
The original focus of the show on Vietnam veterans adjusting to civilian life in the context of a detective show had been played out and the standard 80s private eye tropes were also exhausted.  The fact that the show decided to dig up yet another Higgins half-brother, demonstrated that it was essentially declaring intellectual bankruptcy.
 
Unsurprisingly, the ratings were also tumbling.  Once one of the top shows on TV,  Magnum was being destroyed by NBC's Thursday night juggernaut, led by The Cosby ShowMagnum p.i. was living on borrowed time.
 
In response to this, there were some behind-the-scenes changes.  Tom Selleck stepped up as a producer, giving him more creative control.  The show also moved to Wednesday night, giving it a needed ratings boost.
 
The result was one of the best seasons of the show.  While there had always been call-backs and recurring guest stars, it was until the seventh season that the show embraced multi-episode plot arcs.  This was becoming the norm on American prime time TV thanks to shows like Hill Street Blues, and the writers of Magnum p.i. finally got on board. 
 
This was combined with a sense that the show itself needed to reach a conclusion.   After seven years of production, the characters were visibly growing older and that demanded some sort of acknowledgement.  Accordingly, one of the threads of the season is Magnum himself turning 40 and realizing that being a loafing private investigator dependent on a novelist's largesse was not a sustainable life plan.
 
As the season neared completion, the episodes became ever more closely aligned until the cliff-hanger, where the title character is apparently mortally wounded.
 
In the commentary to the series finale, Charles Floyd Johnson remarks that at the time of filming, it was assumed the show would not be renewed.  When it was picked up for season eight, it was known from the start that this would be the last season of the show.
 
This is probably why the final season had so few episodes.  I initially thought it wrapped in December, but it ran until May, there were just gaps between the shows, probably movies or other specials.
 
As for the finale itself, the two-part episode was apparently controversial, but it works for me.  I don't know if it's possible to have a spoiler for a TV show but those who dislike them can stop reading here...
 
Okay, for the rest of you, I think the decision to have Magnum re-join the Navy makes sense, especially in light of his grandfather's visit.  Magnum had what is known as a "break in service," and it's not uncommon.  He was more than halfway to securing a pension from the Navy, so finishing that up was a logical move.
 
Moreover, the military of 1987 was a step up from the post-Vietnam one he left in 1980.  Some have commented that he jumped up two grades in rank, which is unusual, but in a previous episode he was recalled to active duty as a full Commander so that apparently was still on the books.  I'm not versed in Navy procedures, but they do tend to have a lot more direct commissions than the other services, and given Magnum's unique skills, service record and especially the fact that he's an Annapolis grad, I can see them offering him O-5 with a requirement that he go to the requisite schools upon re-accession.  
 
The other story arcs also work.  T.C.'s reconciliation with his kids and ex-wife naturally flows from the many years of him supporting youth sports teams.  He's ready to be a husband and father and the gap left by his departure was never filled.
 
As for Higgins, er, "Robin Masters," this is the weakest plot point in the whole show, and if you watch it continuously, it does not work at all. 
 
I will grant that after the first few seasons, the writers lost interest in having Robin as a plot element and after that gap, having Magnum speculate that it was all a ruse, isn't completely out of bounds.  That being said, he's a private eye with insider access and would easily be able to see when Mr. Masters' first books were published. 
 
The show seems to have moved away from this in the last two seasons and at one point Higgins challenges Magnum directly, who backs down.  When Higgins appears to come clean in the finale, Magnum is properly incredulous and Higgins' subsequent retraction is appropriate.
 
All in all, it was worth seeing it again, and if I decided to re-watch, I'll definitely avoid the weaker seasons and savor the best days of the show.

The Decline and Fall of Magnum p.i.

Some time ago I bought the complete DVD collection of Magnum p.i., and while it's been fun to re-watch it for the first time in decades, I'm now on the sixth season and the decline of the show is becoming apparent.  The acting is still superb and the characters are fun to watch, but the creative energy behind it is wearing out.

This is largely a function of the American detective show format, which is based upon a relatively static cast that solves cases and does things without an overall story arc.

For a while, this can be quite entertaining, particularly as the characters get fleshed out and their histories are filled in.

However, there comes a point where most of the tropes have been used up and the efforts to get outside the box become increasingly strained, sometimes putting characters in awkward (and uncharacteristic) situations.

The look and feel of the show is also changing.  The earlier episodes had a different aesthetic, and one shaped in part by stagflation and recession.  By the mid-80s, even Magnum is sporting a different look.  Early on he dressed in three-piece suits.  Now he's wearing suspenders like a Wall Street broker.

I intend to keep watching, of course, but the show already feels like it is on borrowed time and while the ratings remained good at the time, the show had peaked.

I'll probably provide a full consideration when I've watched the whole thing, but for now my sense is that the shows just aren't as good.


Will Amazon's Lord of the Rings show stink?

When Amazon announced the purchase of the television rights to J.R.R. Tolkien's literary estate, I was no optimistic.

To be sure, the family had demanded certain assurances that the work would not be corrupted in the way the film versions of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, but that only goes so far.

As I've noted before modern writers seem to have very high opinions of themselves and this leads them to "fix" classic literary works to make them more in accordance with the views of the moment.

The result is inevitably hot garbage, and instead of turning a known property into a "sure thing" financially, it ends up damaging the property itself.

Examples of this are legion, and I've written about them so many times that instead of giving a pile of links, I will direct the curious to simply look up the posts tagged for Star Wars.

What sets Amazon's gambit apart is the sheer scope of the project, which was undertaken when Game of Thrones-mania was at its height.  The failure of that enterprise should have provided an object lesson in the dangers of poor storytelling and the recent disastrous live-action reboot of Cowboy Bebop provides further warnings.

Suffice to say, I'm not optimistic.


The Naked Gun series: diminishing marginal humor

Over the last few weeks I watched The Naked Gun series of films.  I picked up the DVD set cheap and remembered enjoying them, but there is a clear decline in quality as one goes through the series.

This is not unusual in franchise films, but since comedy depends on quality of laughs to succeed, the falloff feels even more pronounced.

The police/detective genre is ripe with areas for parody, the The Naked Gun series has fun with it, but the longer one goes, the more creative one has to be to keep the gags coming.

Further complicating matters is how the second and third movies make a point of using contemporary politics/pop culture as their subject matter.  This doesn't age well. 

A lot of the gags fell flat simply because I forgot who these people were and why they were famous and/or controversial.  It's like watching Mark Russell re-runs (assuming people even know who he is): it was all based on the news of the moment and much of its impact derived from how highly topical it was.  Twenty years later one can only wonder what it was all about.

It's telling that Airplane continues to entertain because many of the touchstones don't feel dated at all.  Air travel is still annoying, dramatic conventions haven't changed that much, and sheer absurdity is always in style.  In fact, some aspects of it are even funnier because they deal with topics that have subsequently become taboo.

As to the films at hand, the first movie was pretty good, the love scene using "Ebb Tide" is the only reason to watch the second, and the third isn't worth the effort.

 


Die Hard is definitely not a Christmas movie

For the first time in many years, last night I re-watched the original Die Hard.

It was quite good, and like many iconic action films, part of what makes it so popular is its pointed social commentary.   Whereas Death Wish and Dirty Harry offered trenchant criticisms on the passive response of politicians to rising crime and societal breakdown, Die Hard not only offers a critique of career-obsessed married mothers but also the colossal ineptitude of both police leadership and the FBI.

That puts it in the first rank of action films and the four sequels prove that it found a repeat audience.

However, that doesn't mean it's a Christmas film.

I'm not sure where this started, but it's taken on a life of its own, likely because when it's taking a break from ruining peoples' lives, social media likes to indulge in heated debates about trivial topics.

Since I rarely use social media, I tuned this out and when the topic came up, I ignored the discussion because I hadn't seen it in so long.  However, with my recent viewing I think it's blindingly obvious that the only Christmas element in it is the time of year.

The terrorist/robbery caper was set to take advantage of an empty building and lax law enforcement presence,  and a Christmas party offered the perfect opportunity.

That's it.  There are perfunctory Christmas references but only because that's what people say at that time of year.

In that sense, it's a Christmas movie in the sense that every film about the Battle of the Bulge is a Christmas movie, because that's when the combat took place.

No one experiences a change of heart relating to the season, no one's faith is strengthened, no one undergoes a Scrooge-like transformation.  There is zero spiritual growth.  Yes, the McClane's reconcile, but that's a trope out of The Love Boat, not a Christmas message.

*Those of you who read my Geek Guns feature on John McClane's Beretta 92F will note that I do in fact make a passing reference to the film being a "timeless Christmas film," but I think it was pretty clear I was being ironic.

 

 


Atari 2600 resurrection

Okay, the title isn't strictly accurate.  My Atari 2600 never broke, I just put it away for years at a time.

Today, I got it out again, and its storage tub came complete with a daisy chain of adapters to render it compatible with modern technology.

It still works!

To me, that's utterly amazing.  We can scoff at the poor graphics, primitive music and limited replay options of the old games, but how many of today's slick products will function 40 years later?  The 2600 was solid state technology at its zenith.  No moving parts, no  need for fans or blowers, just a rugged plastic box filled with copper and some microchips.

There is a tradeoff between fancy features and durability.  I look at my venerable console and can't help notice that everything else in modern society is built for the moment rather than to last as long as possible.

I'm looking forward to digging out the old games and showing them to my children.  Today's generation are too wired, too online, too digital.  It's interesting to see how it started and consider where things went so drastically wrong.

 


The fading memories of Pearl Harbor

Today is the 80th anniversary of the "day that will live in infamy."  In times past, presidents would go to Pearl Harbor and deliver speeches, but so few veterans survive that the ceremonies are much less lavish than they were.

When I was growing up, the World War II veterans were in late middle age, still active but feeling their years.  The Korean War vets were just a touch younger, and conscious of the fact that all most people knew about their conflict was what they saw on M*A*S*H.

The Vietnam veterans were the young guys, some in their 20s, others in their early 30s.  They didn't fit in with the rest and made a point of wearing fatigues rather than dress uniforms for their reunions. 

There were still some World War I veterans around, but they were getting up there.

All of that has now changed with the passage of time.  The WW II generation is now fading fast, heading into the twilight like their Great War predecessors.  The Korean War vets are close behind, and the Vietnam vets are like the rest of the Boomers, feeling their age at last.

There is a scattering of Gulf War veterans, but that conflict was so brief and the losses so light, it's hard to think of it in the same way as the others.

A far larger cohort is my generation, which actually went from youth to middle age over the course of the seemingly endless Global War on Terror.  I don't know what kind of reunion we will have, if we ever have one.  There are no salient events like Pearl Harbor or D-Day to call us together again.

Very soon, Pearl Harbor will be as distant as the Argonne, or Gettysburg - an event with no living participants.

I think that was the thought behind Douglas MacArthur's famous statement that "old soldiers never die, they simply fade away."  Unlike their fallen comrades, they will pass quietly, individually, without much public notice.

I would be remiss if I did not recommend Tora, Tora, Tora for viewing if one is so inclined to learn more about the attack.


The unified Battlestar Galactica compilation post

For a while it seemed that every other post over at Bleedingfool.com involved Battlestar Galactica, specifically its terrible "reboot."

In fact, I've pulled it apart in so many different ways, I think it would be useful to have a handy place to reference the collection, so here we are.

These are the ones at Bleedingfool.com:

Yes, Battlestar Galactica (2004) was the First Punitive Remake

Battlestar Galactica’s Reboot was the forerunner of SJW Hollywood

Battlestar Galactica ’78: The Original Space Western

Again With the Battlestar Galactica Thing…

At the time I was also in a habit of doing posts linking to stories when they posted and adding some addition commentary here at Chateau Lloyd, so here are those links:

My Battlestar Galactica piece is up

Battlestar Galactica revisited

 

 


The faith of Babylon 5

Over at Bleedingfool.com I've got an article up celebrating that lost gem of the 1990s, Babylon 5.

One of my challenges in writing it was keeping my admiration for the show in check, because there is so much about the show to like.

I watched the entire run when it was on live TV of course, and subsequently got the DVDs and binge-watched it twice more.  I'm thinking I might be due for another viewing.

One thing I touched on that's germane to my current Spirit World kick is the degree to which all of the characters on the show not only have some form of religion, but this actually directs their actions.

That's not very common these days as politics have replaced religion.  It's worth mentioning that none of the Star Trek versions ever bothered with a ship's chaplain.  Oh, they had empaths and therapists, but no one regularly participated in prayer services.  When it was shown, faith was always individual.

Babylon 5, by contrast, highlighted how even aliens had a belief system that touched on the supernatural.  It is considered a universal feature of sentient life.

Whether one looks at the near-Islamic Narn, Dionysian Centuri or mystic Minbari, religion was a core part of the group's identity and how each character expressed that was a key part of their personality.

Another element that stands out is that the humans are portrayed as every bit as reverent as the aliens.  This also cuts against the grain.  The classic rule in Hollywood is that only non-Christian cultures have sincere religious faith; Christians are either hypocrites or raving lunatics (often both).

Babylon 5 doesn't do that and as the years go by, I appreciate it more and more.


Ghost hunting, psychics and spiritual warfare

Years ago (back when we had cable/dish service), my wife loved to watch those "reality shows" on ghosts.

I use the scare quotes because the shows were heavily edited, using spooky music, jump cuts and emphasizing reaction shots over actual footage.  Essentially, they were Scooby Doo in reverse, trying to assure the innkeeper that yes, your property does have ghosts so they can including it in their promotional materials.

At the time, I considered it nothing more than a low-rent TV version of The Blair Witch Project, but now I wonder if they were onto something.

Monsignor Stephen Rossetti - the titular exorcise in Diary of an American Exorcist - notes that these shows may be bogus, but they are based on the uncomfortable truth that the spirit realm is real.  He does not discount the existence of ghosts but says that what the low-light cameras and thermal lenses are likely tracking are demons, not the restless dead.

Similarly, the shows about psychics who can put people in touch with dead relatives are also powered not by a benign connection, but an infernal one.

As Father Rossetti notes, demons lie whenever it suits them.  It's perfectly consistent with them to tell someone what they want to hear to undermine Christian faith.  After all, if you can communicate with the dead, why bother praying or going to church?

There's also the secular angle - the notion of using technology to pierce the veil between the seen and unseen worlds.  It acknowledges the spirit realm, but remains faithful to the "science is real" religion by pretending that tools and curiosity can explain the secrets of the universe.

Assuming the hunters are in fact uncovering real phenomena, one wonders if the "work" ever follows them home.