Friday, March 11, 2011

Awesome Old Television

Like my little GoMiso widget in the right-hand column of this blog announces, I like to watch. I've adopted a semi-pomodoro way of getting my work done at home -- what Paul calls "orbits" -- which requires frequent concentrated breaks of sheer entertainment interlarded with pegging away at various writing/homeowner projects.

I don't have cable, though, and don't want to allow all that drek into my home, especially now that I needn't; Netflix, Hulu and other resources mean I can watch what I want pretty much when I want. I'm very close to realizing the "teleputer" of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest fame; a vast array of television and cinematic history is available to me on demand. It's damned amazing.

So right now, I'm watching some old stuff. Recently I took in the marvels of Poldark , for instance, a great BBC adaptation of an extensive series of novels concerning a British veteran of the American Revolutionary War and his homecoming to the amazingly romantic locales of Cornwall. I watched this with my mother as a kid on my local PBS station, but so much of it went over my head at the time that I basically came to it this year brand new. I devoured both series in short order, captivated by the scenery, the rich Cornish accents and the intense soap opera plots -- Ross Poldark, nearly disinherited, takes back his legacy and struggles to make it work, loses his fiancee to his cousin, marries the kitchen maid he originally took in as a charity case, battles an upstart banking family who is swallowing his county and enclosing the commons, rescues his best friend from a French jail, duels, serves in Parliament, etc., etc., glorious etc! I studied this closely as a lesson in how multiple plots can all serve one another as each one-hour episode moves briskly along. Cracking good television, that!

Meanwhile, my good friend and co-author, Adam Christopher (with whom I am writing a supernatural western novel, working title GODLESS), has developed an obsession with Dark Shadows that has proven highly contagious. Again, I sort of desultorily watched bits of this -- more accurately, of the "revival" series starring Ben Cross -- as a young'un with my mother, but it didn't really catch my attention until Adam caught and passed the fever and the original series showed up as available for streaming on Netflix. Alas, as I discovered, the first episode that streams is the 209th, in which all the supernatural stuff in the show starts happening with the release from his grave of troubled vampire Barnabas Collins. There are six months of daily episodes before this happens, however! And I am a completist purist nutjob in the modern manner, and so must abandon the ease of streaming for more conventional means to watch from the beginning. I watched the very first episode last night, vastly amused as governess-to-be Victoria Winters ignores all good advice proffered by the citizenry of Collinsport, Maine and prepares to join the spooky, gloomy household at Collinwood. At this stage, I'm not sure what I love more, the theramin-tastic soundtrack, the eponymous cinematography or the very much stock characters, sinister Devlin, impenetrable Elizabeth, stolid Victoria. This is going to be fun! My plan now is to watch just one episode a day, the way folks originally had to when it was airing, but I doubt that resolve will hold out for long.

I've also taken up a new-to-me discovery, The Onedin Line. I have a great fondness for tales of the sea (part of why I took up and put up with Moby-Dick!) and of scrappy tales of bootstrappers, so this story of the founding of a Liverpool shipping dynasty is right up my canal. You've got to love the story of a man who gets married to obtain a boat and makes the marriage work brilliantly (especially given that the marriage was her idea -- he approaches her to buy her father's boat and she, fearing penury once her father dies, says she'd rather have a husband than the price of the boat, and Onedin agrees!). Commercial scheming and wheeling and dealing aren't usually my thing, but there's something incredibly appealing about watching this protagonist think. Most of the time he's winging it, so in his way he's every bit as dashing as Ross Poldark, and just as fun to watch!

I've only seen one episode, so far, of my other new-old TV obsession, The Sandbaggers. This and The Onedin Line I owe to my Twitter friend Mike Cane. I think he found The Sandbaggers in the throes of withdrawal from the short-lived but amazing Rubicon, but I might be mistaken. Certainly I detect a similar flavor in the two shows, concerned as they are with state security, espionage and secrets. Sandbaggers is older, though, and very British, with the amazing Roy Marsden riding herd on a small team of elite intelligence units and, it seems, defending them from misuse by the British government and its allies. The premiere episode, which I took in last night, was one of the most intense hours of TV I've ever seen, and did not wind down as the episode closed; rather, Marsden's character all but declared war on the his pushy Norwegian counterpart, whose impatience put Marsden's men in harm's way behind enemy (Soviet!) lines. I was breathless!

So you can have your Being Human and your V and your 24 and all that modern dreck that Hollywood and the Beeb think we'll put up with for want of alternatives. With all of TV history at my virtual fingertips these days, my patience for bad writing and acting and stale scenarios has diminished to near-zero.

And there is an unbelievable volume of Dark Shadows alone to be had. I'm terribly curious to see if it can hold my interest the way it held so many others' in days of yore, on a daily basis for years. I also really want to see how they did it!

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