Let’s talk about MyNetworkTV. The idea is so overdue that it almost seems quaint; thirteen-week stripped serials that tell arced dramatic stories, and then are over, poof, and another one starts up.

Because of the “gap” left by the merger of UPN and the WB into the CW, lots of local affiliates all of a sudden had hours without programming, and a whole network was left with empty prime time. So now, from 8 to 10 (Pacific, I don’t know how many feeds there are) we’re getting Desire and The Fashion House, based on classic telenovelas that have enthralled millions of our neighbors down south. These are full American remakes, of course, drawing talent like Bo Derek, Morgan Fairchild, and Tippi Hedrin (Tippi Hedrin, people!) in Fashion House, which, according to its website, “delves deep into the glamorous, yet unscrupulous, world of the fashion industry and how greed, lust and blind ambition make or break careers, and hearts, in the business.” Desire, a serial about mobstery restaraunteur brothers, stars Sofia Milos, near and dear to us from CSI: Miami’s many adventures.

Every weekday for thirteen weeks we’ll get another episode of the unfolding mystery, and as a bonus, the ADD-ridden among us will get special “catch-up” episodes on the weekends, where the week’s events are condensed into an easy-to-swallow hour. And then! When the story’s over, the shows go away. And whole new shows start, with whole new stories. Revolutionary!

The shift from the rigid network format (half-hour or hour, twenty-two week episodic structure that builds its story in time for sweeps and hiatuses) to a story-based one is the natural evolution of the medium. With DVD boxed sets and bittorrent downloads, we’re eating TV series by the season, not the month. Me, I’ve only watched “24” on DVD. I just wait till the season’s over and go to Amoeba so I can consume Jack Bauer’s entire day in one go, and I have been known to do just that — though, unlike Jack, I pause to eat and pee and get from place to place, so it usually takes me longer than twenty-four hours to get through a season.

And let’s all look at Doctor Who, the classic version, for a change: here’s a show that’s been producing story-based arcs for something like twenty-six seasons. And the BBC still remains a rich proving ground for short-form serials; six-episode, thirteen-episode, three-episode stories come and go, year in and out.

Now, we’ve had our share of excellent miniseries, don’t get me wrong, and from Roots to Band of Brothers to that one where William H. Macy had really big ears, I love me a good miniseries. I sat through Taken! I mean, mostly for Matt Frewer and Dakota Fanning, but still. Ten hours! I love a story that takes ten hours!

MyNetworkTV has all the hallmarks of failure, from a cheap-ass logo to programming that looks like it was shot on a sound stage behind the Border Patrol station in Tijuana, but it’s got nothing to lose, and it can afford to be shameless, and that just might propel it to that weird sort of hypnotic success. Soap operas run for twenty seasons, not because they retain viewership from start to finish but because everyone dips in, once in a while, enjoys a season or two of Luke and Laura and then goes back to college or whatever and leaves the series for the next generation to enjoy. This leads me to believe that we will eat this kind of storytelling up.

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greatest hits from outer space

I never watched SG1, even when all my Farscape fannish friends hopped over into SG and even when the artist formerly known as Maayan started writing fic. And EVEN when the artist formerly known as Maayan and I drove out to the desert just to lie down beneath this bowl of stars, and, over the course of eight or ten big-sky hours, M. told me the entire tale of Daniel Jackson, from Sha’uri and that, wossname, wise Ancient caretaker, to Daniel ascending and then getting the boot and coming back with big biceps to play with Ben Browder. And I’ve seen the movie and I’m comfortable with the rule that any new Stargate starts with a hot alien babe showing some scruffy antihero her, erm, cave paintings, but my fannishness about SG1 extends to how hot Jaye Davison was as Ra the sun god in the movie, and, pressed, I couldn’t pick a Goa’uld out of a lineup, despite the fact that I think Peter Stebbings played one once.

This is our first Star Trek free television year since 1987. And I’m not complaining, I can’t very well complain considering the preponderance of genre TV this year, but when a gal who grew up watching Picard seek out new lives and new civilizations needs a sci-fi fix, she needs a FIX, yo. And thus we have Stargate: Atlantis.

SGA is not a profound show, by any means, nor groundbreaking in any way, let’s just get that straight right off the bat. BSG is undoubtedly smarter and more elegant, more dangerous and unique. And BSG is a damned good show; we’ll get that out of the way straight off too, despite the fact that it’s really not very funny at all. But it’s not our space show, not any more than Threshold or Invasion or the new Dr. Who; it didn’t pick up the Star Trek spill. That, there, is for SGA.

Because, okay.

So what SGA does for us is give us everything that was ever delicious about Star Trek (and Star-Trek-related space shows, see also Babylon 5) without any of the hamhanded morality or unwieldy world-building. Every season on every Star Trek has a handful of yummy plots (the bodyswap plot, the trapped-in-an-elevator plot, the killer bugs plot, the power-outage plot) that lend themselves to thoroughly, relentlessly enjoyable television, and then a handful of useless boring plots (the requisite Klingon episode, the requisite alien one-off love affair episode) that never really hold up upon the fortieth or fiftieth rewatch. And so SGA, cleverly, has saved us that trouble by ONLY recycling tried and true FUN space plots. Yes, every arc and every decision and every character or alien race on SGA has its ancestry among the Star Treks, but oh! how wonderful to see them strung together like this, like a greatest hits album recorded by ONLY the good characters, the clever, snarky, slashy characters, with the tongue-in-cheek humor that gets to come from being set in the present, as opposed to in a nebulous future where we don’t have money or racism anymore.

Every character on SGA also has his or her ancestry among the Star Treks, which is kind of a handy shorthand for us because it doesn’t matter if the characters themselves actually live up to their obligations because we BELIEVE they do, since we’ve grown up simmering in these paradigms. To wit — play the drinking game “What Does Weir Do?” sometime and see how sober you end up. Weir, darling Weir, has never once done ANYTHING, not a THING to demonstrate that she’s the ass-kicking chick leader we want her to be. BUT, I’m willing to BELIEVE she is, even if she doesn’t show me, because Janeway was, and that’s where her ancestry springs from. Here, observe a chart, where Star Trek: Voyager is (almost) arbitrarily selected from any of a set of space show paradigms:

Which brings me to why it doesn’t matter if McKay’s science is pseudoscience, because he’s been TAILORED as a genius, we BELIEVE he’s a genius, and so we can use that for our fannish pursuit of tasty slash. And it doesn’t matter if Sheppard’s got nothing but his pointy ears and his belt to set him apart from John Crichton or Tom Paris or anyone else who likes to take a little space ship for a joyride and come home cracking jokes about pop culture, because we BELIEVE he’s a kickass soldier and pilot and commander.

So those of us who wanted so badly to slash our space boys now get a better slash pairing than Paris/Kim (or Crichton/D’Argo!) ever offered us. Those of us who want hot girlslash can take Weir and Teyla to places Janeway and B’Elanna have absolutely gone before. Those of us who want smalltime bottle eps can hang out in Atlantis (which I always accidentally refer to as “the station” when I want “the city,” see also, DS9, B5) while those of us who want mytharc with gravitas have the Wraith a more serious and satisfying threat to Earth than the Borg or the Scarrans ever were. It’s like space shows for DUMMIES over here, with all the lines drawn for us, but FUCK ME the lines are good.

Which is to say: there is nothing unsatisfying about SGA. It is comfort food, it is a legacy, it is in the dictionary next to SPACE SHOW. Mm!

All of this leads me to suspect — and this is where my complete ignorance of SG1 could get me in trouble, so feel free to take this with a grain of stupidity salt — that the creators of SGA were Trek fans themselves, and that they SEE the opportunity SGA has to be the neo-Trek for this generation. Which leads me to “Aurora.”

The Ancients, at least in Aurora, resemble Star Trek so much that I can’t imagine it’s unintentional. Which is partially upsetting, because I want the Ancients to be omnipotent, or at least paranormal, and Star Trek-ifying them makes them almost too underdeveloped for my taste, but let’s table that for now.

John shows up in the virtual environment only to get faced with a phaser and thrown in the brig behind a forcefield. He travels down brightly lit corridors that could be on Voyager, the Defiant, or the Enterprise, and faces off with the Captain in an all-white version of Picard’s bridge.

And perhaps we’re spoiled, those of us who marinated in space shows most of our lives, because we don’t see Star Trek’s universe as tremendously radical; we’ve seen it all before. But with SGA we get an opportunity to see the technology and civilization created by Star Trek in a new light, through the prism of folks who stepped right out of 2005 just like we do. And, like John Crichton faced with little yellow bolts of light, it IS pretty damned amazing what the Ancients came up with, what with transporters and force fields and phased-energy weapons and traveling faster than light. And considering they were defeated by the Wraith, or at least overwhelmed, it makes sense they shouldn’t totally outstrip the Borg, right? I mean, if the Wraith race of bee people was too tremendously advanced from the Borg race of bee people, we’d expect the Ancients to be similarly advanced, and unstoppable opponents don’t make good TV.

But, we can kill a Wraith with only moderately more difficulty than we can kill a Borg, and we are similiary outnumbered, out-hiveminded and out-expendable; the Borg don’t care if they lose a million drones if they take Earth in the process and neither do the Wraith. Which makes sense, and makes the Wraith, like the Borg, a compelling foe. If we could kill them too easily they’d be boring, but if it were impossible to kill them at all, they’d be unwieldy. And thus, we give them bug-minds and greater numbers and we let them rape and pillage the galaxy destroying worlds, while somehow being the only four people in the universe who can conceivably stand up to ’em.

Point being, SGA’s taking a whole team, a whole planet worth of people and doing to them what Farscape did to Crichton; plopping them in the middle of space technology WE (the audience) are not unaccustomed to, and watching the cast members flounder around learning as they go, dwarfed by this impossible futuristic tech and this battle of giants in the playground (watch as I mix my space show metaphors!). And thus, we get everything fun that Farscape did, along with everything fun that Star Trek did, along with everything fun that B5 ever did, stuck between order and chaos, between the Shadows and the Vorlons, between the Ancients and the Wraith, between the Federation and the Borg.

Caught another gasp of apparent downtime at work; this only happens on weekends, usually Sundays, slow news days, when the bosses are away and the campaigns are par for the course till Monday’s news cycle begins.

Let’s talk about TV!

I am all over this Lost-itis surge of genre-lite shows hitting mainstream network television. It’s positively a FEAST for those of us who hunger for genre television in the post-Star Trek world. I’m watching them all (except, oddly, Lost, which I lost control of somewhere mid last season when the flashbacks started to bore me. If they’re done with the backstory flashbacks I might tune in again; how’s this season?) except the one on the WB about the teen ghostbusters, but that’s more of a WB/teen-show bias than anything else, and I’d probably watch it if someone pointed me the way. Anyway, here’s the 2005 shows I’m watching this year. Add to it the old standards of Atlantis and Galactica (go SciFi!), Scrubs and House (go docs!), Survivor and The Amazing Race (go reality!) and this is my Fall ’05 lineup.

Bones: Apparently I’m the only one who’s liking this show. I think that’ll change. It turns out it’s PURE GENIUS, and that Emily Wossname is ADORABLE and she and David Boreanz promise to be the Mulder and Scully of the Oughts, except far more frank and shooting from the hip and FUNNY. I love the ensemble, love the marvelously clueless nerd (see also: every other show this year; viva los nerds!), and love the wry humor socially inept geniuses brought together for no other reason than they love a mystery. Sheer quality; this is the best new show this season. The writing crackles, the ensemble has genuine chemistry, the characters are new and different and the mysteries, so far, have been, you know, TV-solid.

Thumbnail: Bones is a brilliant yet completely socially inept forensic anthropologist who really really likes solving crimes; David Boreanz is a federal agent who could use the help of a good forensic doc, badda-bing, now they’re partners, and they have a crack team of nerds and hackers at their disposal.

Surface: Holy production values, Batman! If nothign else, this show watches like a Hollywood blockbuster, and with cliffhanger endings at the end of every episode, it’s a lot like watching a massive-length feature in the line of “Lake Placid” or “Deep Blue Sea” cut arbitrarily into forty-four minute chunks. So, you know, it’s exactly as enjoyable as “Deep Blue Sea” or “Anaconda” or anything else with scientists and seamonsters, and that Lake Bell is adorable (and about as believable a PhD as Denise Richards).

Thumbnail: There’s something big under the sea, some sort of super mammal that lays eggs, and one got beached, and the government found it, and meanwhile Lake Bell is a surfer-chick marine biologist single mom trying to solve the mystery of the undersea beast. Elsewhere, a kid in suburbia hatched one of the eggs and grew a teeny little amphibian that he named “Nimrod.” Elsewhere, a guy in an annoying marriage is obsessed with finding the sea monster that dragged his best friend away.

Threshold: I don’t care what you say, there is nothigng that will make me stop watching a show where Brent Spiner and a midget protect us from invading aliens. This is probably a dumb show, but I don’t care much, because, like Surface, it has its roots in adventure/pseudo-genre films like “Sphere” and apocalypse films like “The Day After Tomorrow” and “Independence Day,” thus makign it a classic textbook what-to-do-when-the-aliens-come series. Carla Guigino is a good tough lead, but the high points of this show are unquestionably Brent Spiner as the neo-60’s hippie doc, and the midget lingust mathematician. MIDGET LINGUIST! The possibilities are limitless!

Thumbnail: A la “Sphere,” Carla Guigino is a federal agent who dedicated her life to making plans for Worst Case Scenarios, and building teams to call to duty in said scenarios. When an alien signal designed to reprogram human DNA appears over a Navy ship at sea, Guigino is called to Washington to implement plan Threshold; the plan she wrote for the event of an alien invasion. She comes with her very own clueless nerd (this one’s a curly haired hacker conspiracy theorist, to offset “Bones”‘s curly haired hacker PhD student or “Numb3rs” Krumholtz’s curly haired math teacher), a tough-jawed marine, and the aforementioned Brent Spiner and a midget that make the show oh so worth watching. Seriously, the midget (Peter Dinklage) linguist is the best bitter brilliant not-a-team-player scientist to hit media since those guys who worked with Bruce Willis in “Armageddon.”

Invasion: SNK likes this show because it’s really secretly a show about the vicissitudes of blended families, masquerading as a pseudo-genre show about aliens. Really, the crazy Everglades stepfamiles that make up the ensemble are absolutely the reason to watch, from the scruffy conspiracy theorist brother-in-law (“It’s an EBE! It’s an EBE!”) to Kari-Matchett-of-Cube-2 as the wild-eyed blonde doctor who just might be under her husband’s weird alien spell. The kids act like kids, the stepparents act like stepparents, and the politics of Homestead, FL, are secondary to the politics of a family with stepdads and stepmoms and stepkids all struggling to feel safe after the scary (and all-too-real-looking) hurricane.

Thumbnail: There’s a hurricane in Florida, after which mysterious bolts of light fall from the sky, land in the Everglades and swim away. Two families, joined by divorce and including (usefully) a doctor, a newscaster, a park ranger and a sheriff, survived the hurricane and had their share of strange encounters with the alien lights, which they will likely spend most of this season coming to understand. Like Lost, and unlike most of the other new-genre shows, Invasion is careful not to tell too much; the story of the alien (?) is vague at best, and used only to add color to the more important story of the family and social dynamics in this sleepy Everglades town.

*

As for comedies, I’m watching “How I Met Your Mother” and “Kitchen Confidential” and so far they’re both very worthy heirs to excellent sitcoms lost and gone. “Kitchen” could be the next Sports Night, if it smarts up a little, and “How I Met” is already the best heir to “Friends,” but even better because it’s got Neil Patrick Harris and Alyson Hannigan in. Neil Patrick Harris is the best thing to hit sitcoms since Zach Braff, I tell you whut.

I gotta go back to work now.

Londo Mollari of the House Mollari

At the Melrose Ave. piercing-supply-slash-head-shop where they sell Om and Yin Yang and dragon’s head pendants in pewter for eight bucks, I picked me up an amulet of dubious imagined origin — some sort of fake spiritual symbol, I assume — which purported to represent The Summoning of Power!

So anyway, I now have the ability to summon power, on a cheap silver chain around my neck. Mostly I bought it because I like saying it aloud in a booming voice while my sister got fitted for a new earring for her tragus pierce (and it all comes ’round again,Punk), but, you know. Fear me! I can summon power now. I’ll admit, I’m afraid to use it.

But here I go, summoning power that this Macintosh will not foil me while I get out all this business about Londo Mollari.

I’ve been thinking about Londo for weeks now. The DVDs came so I’m rewatching B5 seasons 3 and 4, and the A stories are so familiar to me I find myself scanning past them, emotionally, looking for things hiding in the fabric I hadn’t seen before. And while I’ve always loved Londo — as far as individual alien-centric eps go, you know, the requisite seasonal Ep About Narns or Ep About Minbari, the Centauri ones were always my favorite — this time I took notes because there’s something about him I’ve never been able to put into words. Not sure if I can now either, beyond the fact that he’s tragic, heartbreaking, more complex, I think, than any other character in any of my fandoms. But I wanna try.

Normally when I obsess about a character I want to write him into a fic, but I find Londo un-fic-able and I wanted to figure out why. It’s not for lack of chemistry (Londo/G’Kar just *cries out* and Londo/Vir’s not a bad fallback position) or for an inability to find his voice; I swear, sometimes I talk to myself in that Franco-Russian accent of his.

But Londo, it turns out, is a victim of circumstance. Is most interesting when the world is thrust upon him, when each decision he makes is to cover for or try and repair all the decisions prior. When the results of his actions spiral out of control and he’s trapped — as he is for most of his life — by the world he’s built around myself.

Since JMS and Peter Jurasik did a damned good job of creating a world on Londo’s shoulders, there’s no room for me to do it and I wouldn’t want to. And excising him from that world — giving him an adventure, a romantic interlude or even some inextricable angry sex with G’Kar — takes away what it is I like the most about Londo to begin with. I don’t want to see him making new decisions, good or bad, separate from the fate he’s got in the series. And because he’s buried there so deep I can hardly imagine space in his brain to get him there anyway.

Londo’s the epitome of old-school, conservative, reactionary, a member of a regime that’s seen its best days. The Centauri Republic and its Emperor are old models of a dying paradigm and Londo’s stuck there like somebody’s dad, shaking his head and wondering what happened to the good old days.

G’Kar tells Londo his heart is empty, but I don’t agree. I think Londo has the heart of a boy who grew up in the shadows of the royal court in its heyday, with — probably in keeping with the timeless and prophetic nature of Centauri as a race — ancestral memories of honor, valor, order and respect. Everything Londo does he does for the Centauri, he does as a Centauri, as a member of this dying breed that even the other members of the royal court no longer aspire to be part of.

He’s given his title of Ambassador to Babylon 5 as a joke, almost. It’s a write-off assignment that no one else wanted, but for Londo it’s the first step toward the royal court, it’s a title, responsibility, the mantle of the Empire that he grew up honoring above all else. He’s hungry for power, reckless for it but not out of greed, exactly — more out of an understanding that That’s What Centauri Do.

His first fatal mistake — the one that would inform all the other fatal mistakes to come — is his grudging alliance with Mr. Morden. The one good thing in Londo’s life — the Lady Adira — has been taken from him by Lord Refa, and, enraged, Londo needs to show the Centarum that he’s better than Refa, needs to hurt Refa in the only way that makes sense, stripping him of respect and power.

Londo cuts his Faustian bargain with Morden and his relationship with the Shadows — the one that will, over the next twenty years, destroy him — begins.

Morden and the Shadows align with Londo for their own purposes, and intellectually he knows it, knows Vir’s right when Vir tells him not to take the deal. I think even then he sees his own fate (again with the Centauri and their prophetic dreams), but as far as Londo’s concerned he has no other choice. No other choice — with this decision, or any of the decisions to follow.

For Londo, the Shadows attack the Narn. Londo wants it to be over then but he knows it can’t be. Londo could have killed one Narn, gotten a medal for it and gone on with his life but that’s not the way of the Great Centauri — they live big, they do big, they conquer. It’s the way he was raised — the way things Are. So the Shadows destroy one Narn base and then another, and Londo watches it spin out of control, hoping against hope (and he doesn’t really hope, I think, he never really thought he’d get his life back after that) that it would end after just one more. But Morden’s ruthless and the Shadows have their own plans (“Why don’t you destroy the entire Narn homeworld, while you’re at it?”) and it’s too late.

Every decision Londo makes — every single personal, emotional, or professional decision for the duration of the series and the rest of his life — comes from trying to untangle what he’d done when he aligned with the Shadows and started the war against Narn.

And he doesn’t — he doesn’t feel evil. He doesn’t think he’s evil, just a victim of impulse and circumstance. He never wanted the Narns killed. Never wanted G’Kar to hate him and doesn’t quite understand why G’Kar does — why G’Kar can’t see that Londo had only the best intentions and only ever wanted to do right by his people, for the good of that dying Centauri republic.

But as G’Kar said, he shook Londo’s hand, and 24 hours later they were at war.

Still, I don’t think Londo ever considers G’Kar his enemy. He has the opportunity to kill G’Kar (“And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place”) and he has Lord Refa killed instead.

When the Centauri telepath comes to the station Londo asks her to tell him his fate — rather, to confirm that the fate he knows is spooling out for him is unavoidable. “You will be Emperor,” she tells him, and with that he knows he’s doomed.

He closes his eyes and everything about his life ahead of him is awful — he gets the vision of the Shadows landing on Centauri Prime (see: icon) long before he’s even heard of the creatures, gets the vision of himself as an aging Emperor infected by his Drahk keeper, gets the vision of dying at G’Kar’s hands. And even knowing his horrible, awful fate he does nothing to avoid it, because he does what he does for the Centauri, and he knows he’s doomed to suffer but god damn it he won’t let his people down.

You think about it — Sheridan does much the same thing and he’s cheered as a hero. Londo goes down unpitied and unmourned, having lived every single moment in service of an Empire that doesn’t really exist anymore.

Even when the crazed Cartagia was Emperor, making a mockery of the court and all it stands for, Londo still makes sure his dress jacket is clean and pressed before entering Cartagia’s throne room. Even when the crazed Cartagia sells out Centauri Prime to the Shadows and nearly gets the entire world destroyed, Londo stands on ceremony and respects the office. That respect, that tradition of service to the throne and the people, is all Londo has. Which is why if you try to tell him the Centauri regime is outmoded and dying he can’t hear you, he won’t hear you because without it he is absolutely nothing.

Kosh shows himself in the garden saving Sheridan, and to all the other races, the Vorlon appears as an angelic being of light, something straight out of their bibles and myths. Londo, with no mythology other than that of the Republic, doesn’t see anything.

Peter Jurasik is just a phenomenally brilliant actor, I think. Because here’s a character primarily defined by conquest, by getting in bed with the dark side and emerging heartless, but somehow Londo is more than just pathetic or piteous — he’s a hero, a nobleman, an old-school martyr. Beyond the hair and the makeup it’s all in that face — he’s gonna take a deep breath and go down for his people because that’s what’s been asked of him. And it hurts like hell but he might as well be waiting there at Gethsemane (Brother Thomas would agree). And while he might in a moment of weakness ask that this cup pass from him, he knows it can’t, and he doesn’t run, and to the moment where he dies at G’Kar’s hands he takes it like a man. Like a Centauri.

I fucking love this guy. I’ve got pages of notes here, all the little moments that make Londo what he is: he’s trapped in the elevator with G’Kar and he just doesn’t understand why G’Kar won’t help him try to escape, why G’Kar can’t see that in this, like in so much else, they’re in this together, they’re both whipping boys, they’re both doomed.

When he’s given his keeper and crowned Emperor, both to protect his people from the explosive devices the Drakh have planted all over Centauri Prime, he sends Sheridan and the others home rather than inviting them to his coronation. Not because he doesn’t wish beyond hope that he could shrug it all off and side with them, but because he doesn’t want them to be part of this, doesn’t want them entangled in what he has to do. He keeps both Vir and G’Kar at arm’s length for the same reason, and so he’s considered arrogant, hostile. And really, he’s just an instrument.

I wish I could write Londo, and maybe now that I’ve gotten all this out of my system I can. But I swear, in all my fannish pursuits (including a tendency to be drawn to the villains, Dukat, Scorpius, CSM, to try and see their stories, their points of view), I really don’t think there’s a character out there as complicated — while being somehow also incredibly simple in his priorities and his purpose — as Londo.

What a great fucking show.

How many Centauri does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
Just one. But in the great old days of the Republic, hundreds of servants would change thousands of bulbs at our slightest whim.
— Londo, “Convictions”