What else I’ve been watching

I started this post when I was talking about The Wire, I figured I’d put out a list of what else has been keeping my attention TV wise these days. Its late, but I already wrote most of it so I figured why not. I’m not really a huge TV person, never have been. I tend to time-shift my shows and then watch them when I’m not doing anything else, which usually ends up being late at night.

  • Battlestar Galactica: This has been one of my favourite television shows of the last few years and is now heading towards an ending. If you haven’t seen any of it, you should have. Its really, really good. Basically its a rimagining of on old science fiction show in which the human race is wiped out my a race of machines we’ve created and the survivors are forced to run for their lives while being hunted by the same machines. Along the way thugh it becomes a great meditation on the nature of humanity, morality, religion etc. Its science fiction at its upper end. I recommend highly.
  • Big Bang Theory: This I was determined not to like. Its a sitcom about a pair of socially awkward physicists and their friends. I pretty much expected that the writers would settle for the dumbest possible nerd stereotypes, add no real depth and screw the story up. Instead, they kept the stereotypes but managed to add enough depth and authenticity to make them real people. Interestingly enough, there are quire a few scientists I know who are followers of the show because of how well its written and the inside jokes it throws our way. Also recommended
  • The Unit: Dennis Haysbert shooting people and looking cool in the process. Need I say more? Its a bit on heavy handed in its stance at times,but its great pulp action and good acting. All things I’m partial to.

Other stuff I’m watching but not so keen on writing a short paragraph about, Mobile Suit Gundam 00 and  the new season of Hajime No Ippo (yes, I like anime. It doesn’t say geek up there because I couldn’t come up with another name)

I was also watching Dr. Who and Torchwood until both seasons ended. I’m really, really waiting for them to start back up again, even though they shall no longer be servicing my Freema Agyeman crush. Again, if you are a science fiction fan and not watching these, your loss. Majorly.

Aah, beaten to it(another Wire post)

There was meant to be a follow up to my post on The Wire where I would discuss what a version of that show looking at Africa would look like. However I’ve been slow about writing these things and so fellow African geek aflakete pointed me to this post on Brown Man’s Burden that beat me to the punch. Hence I’ll just quote him

I think an interesting show, similar to the Wire, could be made about economic development and foreign aid. It would document NGOs, the World Bank, bureaucrats, politicians, big foundations and academics in their efforts to distribute aid and stimulate economic growth.

The key would be to show how the self-interest of each of these groups both helps and hinders the process of growth, and to convey how complicated stimulating growth and poverty alleviation is.

Obviously the man is a genius since we both had the exact same idea. Except he’s faster at writing these things out than I have been recently. Its still a great idea though, and it’ll provide a convenient launching pad for my next post on this topic. Sooner rather than later people, don’t worry.

Why I will miss The Wire

Some of you have heard of The Wire, a crime show that ran for 5 seasons on HBO and recently came to a close. Actually if you are a regular reader you probably have heard of it. I tend to run in those kinds of circles.

For those of you who haven’t heard of it, the link above will cover all the details if you are interested. In short though, it is a show that primarily operates from the point of view of the police and criminals in the city of Baltimore, Maryland and then uses that point of view to examine the cracks in the American dream in its inner cities and former industrial towns in a manner that is nothing short of remarkable. Personally I believe it is one of the best written television shows I have ever seen.

What makes this show great in my eyes, and most likely one of the same things that prevented it from achieving the kind of mass acclaim it deserves, is the way it has continually avoided overly simple and neat explanations of problems in favour of the kind of nuanced view that is rarely see in either real life or fiction.

In their world, there are multiple instances when the question of who is good, who is evil and what actions are appropriate is left to the audience instead of being explicitly spelled out for them to an accompanying soundtrack. Even more impressive though, social problems aren’t solved by 30 second simple fixes that involve one person’s removal or miraculous change of character. Instead we are shown the overlapping circles of dysfunction in the police, the media, the political system, local businesses, the school system and the streets themselves and how each enables and reenforces the other. Most of the people we spend time around are hemmed in my these systems and forced to choose between a series of very limited options, each with its own set of consequences. Some choose well, most choose badly, although again the question of which is the right choice is left to the judgement of the viewer a majority of the time.

For the most part, people who talk about this stuff tend to assume that their audience lacks the attention span necessary to digest a multifaceted view of life and therefore are only capable of dealing in terms of overly simplistic narratives with all the lines clearly sketched in for them and there is no hint of complexity, underlying issues, overlapping causes or anything else that might actually require them to assume the people they are being told about live lives every bit as complicated as theirs, if not more so.

In a lot of ways, The Wire’s insistance on a nuanced look at a world usually dominated by simplistic narratives and a complete lack of empathy reminded me a lot of the larger conversation about Africa. A lot of the time instead of a proper look at the mix of factors that cause things to be the way they are in my part of the world, a simple narrative of ‘vampire states’ or something equally inane to cover a much wider range of issues.

Anyway, that minor rant aside, I’m going to miss this show. It was 5 seasons of memorable characters and the kind of writing that draws you in regardless of whether or not you want to be drawn in.

Random musings

'Be' Cover

1. I’ve been listening to Common’s new album ‘Be’ almost exclusively since it was released on Tuesday. In my opinion its an early candidate for album of the year. Granted, at 11 tracks its not the longest CD you’ll ever hear but every track is quality. From what I hear its also shaping up to be his highest selling album to date. I’m really happy for him, Especially after the violently negative reception his last album ‘Electric Circus’ received. Personally I liked Electric Circus, still do. The exploratory nature of its production really turned people off though, unfortunately. Ironically, most of the same people loved Andre 3000’s ‘The Love Below’. I can’t explain it.

2. Has everyone else heard R.Kelly’s latest multi-part auditory abortion? Otherwise known as ‘In the Closet parts 1-3’ these songs are so horrifically bad it feels like one of those really bad science fiction movies that were the staple of ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’. Its so incredibly horrible that you find yourself watching it in amazement that an actual thinking person came up with this and had the bravery to release it. From the generally positive reaction that this, and other crappy R-Kelly songs have received, I believe that he should consider giving up his singing career (well, that he should do anyway for the sake of humanity) and become a cult leader. If he can convince people that putting bad soap opera scripts to music is an act of genius, what else can he get them to do? Honestly I wish I had that gift. I’d use it to put together a harem.

3. Two of my favorite TV shows are not being renewed. The Sly Stallone reality boxing show ‘The Contender’ and UPN first decent prime time drama ‘Kevin Hill’. For those of you who missed both if these, you missed out. Especially The Contender, which, along with Spike TV’s ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ actually made me regularly watch reality TV. At least ‘The 4400’ is coming back. For those of you who haven’t seen it, think ‘Lost’ but better.

Wierd TV observations: 24

Since I didn’t have class, I was at home in time to catch fox’s 24 today. While watching it something interesting occured to me. 24’s treatment of its female characters is more than a little disturbing.

Lets look at a few examples.
The current head of CTU is painted as this cold, conniving bitch who also happens to have a mentally disturbed daughter who just commited suicide.
Aisha Tyler’s character was a mole for the terrorists until they killed her.
Bauer’s daughter was constantly running from one improbably idiotic situation to another. His mistress was also a mole who tried to kill him. His current girlfriend, much like his daughter, is constantly running headlong into dangerous situations.
Pres. Palmer’s daughter was raped, his wife was working for his enemies.
Behrooz’s girlfriend was invited over and killed basically because she was stalking him.
Bauer’s contact at CTU is framed and tortured before getting out and blackmailing her boss for a better position.

Now, I don’t watch this show regularly, I usually catch less than half of a given season so I could be wrong here. On the other hand, it is more than a little improbable that I just happen to catch the eps where the women are treated badly. Its also possible that this is just part of a larger trend involving both male and female characters. Doesn’t seem that way to me though.

Jack Johnson: Flawed Hero

The second half of Ken Burns’ Documentary: Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson aired today. I already knew who he was but this show definitely added a lot to what I knew about both the man and the boxer. Like most great people, his story was at once humbling, inspiring and saddening (the rhyming in unintentional, I promise). This was a man who, in an age where black men could be assaulted or killed for even daring to speak out of turn, lived his life with a fearlessness that would be remarkable even today. The fact that he was somewhat troubled and made several unwise decisions does little to overshadow the magnitude of his achievements or the strength of his character. I, for one, salute him and hope I can one day learn to live my life with the same fearlessness.
R.I.P Jack Johnson, a giant among men Posted by Hello

The Wire (R.I.P Stringer Bell)

I took my standard sunday night study break to watch tonight’s episode of HBO’s ‘The Wire’. It would have been a better study break if I had actually gotten any real work done before midnight but that’s another story. I’m a huge fan of the storytelling on this show and of the writers’ willingness to take chances like killing off popular characters. Their willingness to make strong statements about the futility of the war on drugs and honestly depict the politics inherent in law enforcement don’t hurt either. That said, I will miss Idris Elba as Stringer Bell.
Favourite moment of this episode: The opening scene where Omar and Brother Mouzone have a western style face-off. The dialogue and chemistry between the two characters was perfect.
I hope there will be a season four. Television needs more shows like this.