Friday, September 2, 2005

It's my favorite time of the year: the weather's getting cooler, the bugs are dying, and best of all, I'm finally getting my new television shows. What makes the 2005 Fall Season particularly special is the file-sharing protocol Bittorrent; they run the closing credits of an all-new episode and like five minutes later, there's about five-hundred high-def copies of the show circulating over the net. Not only do I catch up on what I missed, like the first season of Desperate Housewives, but also it no longer matters that my parents are too cheap to spring for HBO. I downloaded two shows: HBO's Roman period drama Rome and FOX's prison-escape drama Prison Break. We're seeing a lot of creativity with the titles of these shows here. I believe ABC is premiering a show called Mediocre Family Sitcom with a Laugh Track.

First, Rome, which I imagined was for people who think La Madrastra is the greatest thing ever to spring from a human mind. (Can you believe that Bruno confessed to Emilia that Fabiola had his love child right before she died?!) I took two and a half years of Latin in college, so I've had the joy of experiencing the Roman republic right from the primary sources and I can say that their government was basically an erotic soap opera. Well, I guess so is our government, but theirs was a lot cooler cause there's no media or pundits to get uppity about anything. All these people ever did was fuck and murder each other (usually in that order), then they'd go to senate meetings and gossip about who did who, or who's gay, or who's sleeping with their cousin. Stuff like what Cicero said defending this guy Marcus Caelius against Clodius's charges of treason: "I saw you out in the market, Clodius, with your wife... uh, excuse me, I meant your sister..." Clodius's sister/wife, by the way, poisoned Clodius's enemy Dio and framed Marcus Caelius before having an on-and-off affair with trashy gossip poet Catullus. It is, in the words of the Roman satirist Juvenal, the shit.

Unfortunately, those screen adaptations, not so much. Remember how, in Gladiator, there was Russell Crowe and there was that black dude and then everybody else looked exactly the same, but it didn't really matter cause the fifteen-minute-long battle sequences were awesome? Well, Rome is like that, except for the awesome long battle sequences. Since all the characters pretty much looked the same, all with that mid-nineties Caesar haircut that I guess was all the rage back then, I couldn't really figure out what was going on. I think we're watching the drama surrounding the dissolution of the Roman republic into Caesar's empire, but I have yet to discern why we might care.

I don't want to make the obvious political metaphor: the fall of a decadent empire under the tyranny of a popular expansionist war leader. Stories should be about people, what they need, what they care about, who they are fundamentally, and here Rome leaves me completely flustered. Not only do all the characters look the same, but they all have the exact same empty generic personality, and it's pretty clear from the first hour that there's not going to be much growth happening in the next twelve. The exception is Atia, the manipulative harridan who's a staple of every HBO drama since the death of Livia Soprano.

We don't really have interesting characters, and I can't really follow the story, so why do I plan on tuning in week after week? Boobies. Lotsa boobies. Like a Caligula count on the boobies. I told you this culture was full of perves.

Thursday night, I was watching The Shawshank Redemption, and I was like, "This is weird. I'm not feeling cathartically inspired. And it's been a really long time since I've heard the soothing voice of Morgan Freeman." Then I realized that I was actually watching Prison Break, a big-budget, high-concept, kind of dopey Great Escape story with a multifaceted conspiracy thrown in cause those are in vogue right now. Think Shawshank if it were directed by Jerry Bruckheimer.

In case you're my mom and you don't watch FOX cause you still think there's nothing on that network besides Married With Children and Cops, and you haven't seen any of the commercials they've been running since, like, April, I'll recap the show for you. (Although Mom did watch Ally McBeal. Hypocrite.) We've got Wentworth Miller — and what kind of nerd parents name their kid "Wentworth" — looking a bit like a G.I. Joe action figure: he's stiff, has a blank stare, and is about three inches tall. Wentworth gets himself incarcerated in an Illinois prison along with a hilariously tortuous plan to free his death row inmate brother. Okay, first of all, didn't the governor of Illinois declare a moratorium on the death penalty? And it's not like that happened recently either or anything; it was four years ago. They couldn't have moved the prison to Texas or somewhere during development? Lazy...

Also, what's with these dumbass conspiracies in places they don't belong? Ahem, Desperate Housewives. It's one thing where you've got your characters personally invested and developing as they unravel the mystery, like in The Manchurian Candidate or The X-Files or the works of Thomas Pynchon. (Actually, in Vineland, where the characters all know about the conspiracy but can't be bothered explaining it to the reader, it doesn't work so well.) Do something like Crime and Punishment, where I don't need to worry about solving the mystery so I can enjoy the characters' growth from their actions. The whole keeping crucial info from the audience trick is manipulative, it's flimsy writing, and I hate, hate, hate writers who do that! Just answer my damn questions and let me decide if I like your work already. Now I've gotta keep watching this stupid show to see who's framing the brother. This crap is really gonna cut into my social life.