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May 20, 2012

The DREAMER and LOVER sit talking to each other. On the other side of the stage, a chorus of DREAMS – lounging like dangerous schoolboys, all attitude and disdain. They are a CHORUS, but also individual manifestations of the DREAMER’s psyche. DREAM TWO in particular is an individual – he is mockery, chaos, a trickster with a smile like a knife. The DREAMER is confessing crimes and love. The DREAMS begin as a threatening, ridiculing presence.

Dialogue (spoken or sung) is italicised, and intersperses with verse.



Can I tell you a story?


Go on.


Tell me you love me first.


Angels with swords, rooms without end,

Spitting your teeth into your palm.

Cars that crash, letters you forgot to send.


Come on! Oh – fine. I love you.


Once upon a time, I killed a man


Oh hush –



He stood where you are standing now

I smiled at him

and cut him with a knife

his blood smelled like cigarette smoke

his eyes fluttered like flowers




He didn’t fight you?


Oh no, I think he was glad

You see, he hated his job.


Wolves in the forest, beasts with nine eyes

Showing up naked for PE

We are your dreams, we sing you sweet lies


He laughed as I sliced him open
From navel to throat
The sea poured from his belly
Intestines unwound like a film-strip
Flickering; I stopped to watch


The fall of kingdoms, love’s last kiss

Sitting down to the wrong exam

Climbing tall mountains, the sinking of ships,

and falling


all you apes dream of falling


(interjecting) And secretaries, bending over


You people are so childish


Disgusting –


Predictable, you’re all so –

DREAMER ignores the DREAMS, and interrupts them with his verse.


You would recognise his grey face
His broom in hand
Like a forgotten friend
He clears away the crust of last night
He clears your dreams before daylight
You are new


Yesterday’s eyes, plucked clear from your head.

A clean stage to be filled again

The sweeper of dreams, he killed us dead


DREAMS ONE and THREE                                                                 DREAM TWO

He’s dead                                                                                                  We’re free

Dead                                                                                                           Free


And you’ll never be free



Why did you kill him?


DREAMER                                                         DREAMS

Haven’t you ever wondered                            We are


Who you are in the dark?

We are who you are in the dark

Glasses that never fill, mothers with cold faces

That rot into yours in the dark

All those sick traces

All the broken pieces

All the secret wishes


We gather them up

We make a garland

And as you fall asleep

It tightens

As you fall in with us

It tightens

Can you hear us singing?

We’re singing to you


DREAMER                                                         DREAMS

Haven’t you ever wondered                            We are


Who you are in the dark?



Aren’t you afraid?


Of what?


Of going crazy?


The DREAMS perk up at this, edge closer and closer – they start to paw at the DREAMER through the next section though DREAMER tries to ignore them. They only take this as encouragement, smirking maliciously.



If my dreams drive me crazy, then I was crazy to begin with.


I’m cluttered and clashing, all teeth
and claws and eyes
I contain multitudes
I am legion, legendary
The sweeper’s dead and I am


The DREAMER faces off against the DREAMS here – acknowledging them directly for the first time. This is a battle for the DREAMER’s mind – bereft of the protection of the Sweeper.



Little pig, little pig, let us in

Or we’ll twist you

We’ll turn you

We’ll swallow you whole


They are my secrets


Why grandmother, what big secrets you have!

They are my desire

They are my hopes

They are my fears


All the better to crush you with my dear…

We’re sick, we’re slithering

We’re lust and damnation

We’re rage and frustration


The DREAMER is shaken – but turns back to the main task – convincing the LOVER of the DREAMER’s worth and sincerity.



Can you love me?


I love you.


Can you love all of me?


DREAMER                                                          DREAMS

They call me into the dark                               Come into the dark

Will you come into the dark with me?          Come into the dark


The DREAMER holds out a hand – the LOVER does not take it.


LOVER                                                                 DREAMS

I’m afraid of the dark                                        Come into the dark


The DREAMER suddenly pushes away the DREAMS – shakes them off, and steps closer to the LOVER – who steps away, slightly fearful. DREAMER turns back to the DREAMS.


DREAMER                                                      DREAMS

They call me into the dark                             Come into the dark


Very deliberately. The DREAMER turns away from the DREAMS. As DREAMER sings – s/he points at them, forces them forward, like supplicants. The DREAMER will not be controlled – for the LOVER, s/he will conquer the DREAMS.


But I’ll pull them into the light for you
I’ll expose them
They will make beautiful pictures
We’ll hang them on our walls


The last section the DREAMER and DREAMS sing together – slowly merging into the persona of the DREAMER with their voices and actions.



I am cluttered, unclean, clashing


I am all teeth

I am the storm, I am shipwreck


But also the island

I am whole

I am true


DREAMER                                            DREAMS

Come with me                                        Come with us

We can fly                                               We can fall


The DREAMS surround the DREAMER. They all reach their hands out to the LOVER – begging the LOVER to come to them.

The LOVER hesitates for a moment and then reaches out – their hands clasp.



We can dream in daylight together

It will always be daylight here

And never dawn.


We’ve Moved!

July 3, 2009

The blog has now moved and rebranded slightly to You Can Panic Now in the interests of the launch of Unreal City in August and, rather superficially, making the blog a bit prettier. It’s also going to be providing updates, thoughts and behind-the-scenes information for the game. Please do adjust your bookmarks.

If you’re on livejournal, then here’s the new syndicated feed. For everyone else, here’s the new RSS feed.

There’s a new post about gaming and new frontiers up as well, if you need further incentive!

Ron Moore’s ‘Virtuality’ Webisodes

June 21, 2009

Following up to the kinds of fictions/new media narratives that I’ve been talking about, Ron D. Moore’s new television series Virtuality has released a series of webisodes. They’re only available via Facebook– as of now. (A rather strange marketing decision; I imagine they will get a youtube/imeem/hulu release at the very least, but perhaps this is just testing the waters.) The webisodes are presented as marketing/promos for a reality TV series called ‘Edge Of Never’– which is a reality TV series within Virtuality. It follows the lives of the crewmembers of on the Phaeton, on their ten-year mission to save the planet. While– from the information I’ve seen– Virtuality incorporates reality-tv style footage, I’m fairly sure that it also features a more traditionally mediated perspective. It isn’t just the characters seen through a reality TV lens, though that’s one of the narrative tools they use.

I think they’re a brilliant use of the concept. They are marketing cunningly disguised as (fictional) marketing. This allows them to play with genre, introduce the premise of the show and its characters plausibly (and with drama! and over-the-top exposition!– just like reality TV shows do) and delve into this high-concept, high-stakes scifi world with a dose of humour and humanity. Using the fictional reality series conceit also gets them around having to reveal any actual spoilers for the show, but at the same time providing us with some high-quality and interesting canonical material.

Interactive Fiction

June 10, 2009

I’ve been playing various hypertext adventures recently; there are some very good, slick, well-written ones out there. The most obvious example is Emily Short, the watchword on ‘literary’ IF. (Her blog’s a great resource on IF in general, with guides, recommendations and lots of cogent analysis of games, as well as some good info for those that know a bit more about IF coding, Inform and other systems.) I thoroughly enjoyed her espionage thriller City of Secrets— a sprawling world filled with high technology and magic, with a backstory that informs the plot and characters with subtle and complex motivations. Her other games are definitely on my to-play list.

Just finished All Roads by Jon Ingold. It’s quite short– I played it through in about an hour and change. You begin dangling from a noose on a rickety stool, about to be hanged in a strange city, and gets better from there. It veers into the fantastical, and uses the central conceit (which I can’t really reveal to you) to great effect. It’s a kind of circular, clever narrative, and the ending surprised and delighted me. I’ve linked to it on Parchment, where it’s playable in-browser, but of course, it’s also downloadable. All you need is an emulator for Z-code, also linked on the IF Archive site.

This year’s XYZZY Award-winner Violet is also definitely worth a play. It’s set in a real world situation, all in one room, and forces you into some creative problem solving. The issue is this: you are a PhD student who has been procrastinating about writing your thesis. Your girlfriend Violet is tired of your excuses. You fought bitterly the night before, and in an effort to stop her leaving you promised her that you would write 1000 words of your thesis today. So here you are, at your desk. All you have to do is write 1000 words. Should be easy, right? (Clue: it’s not going to be!) It’s a funny, interesting game with puzzles that are intuitive and eminently solveable, with a bit of thought. Oh, and how could you not adore a game which has the function to turn ‘HETERONORMATIVITY OFF’, thereby turning the main character into a girl?

For the IF beginner: Emily Short’s guide is a good place to start. Think of yourself as a reader-player. Depending on the type of game, puzzle-solving or creative thinking enters in to it. I prefer the latter, story-based puzzles, really. Many games also have walkthroughs linked through from their page on the Interactive Fiction archive. Once you get the hang of the main commands that allow you to manipulate objects, your environment and interact with other people, it really couldn’t be simpler.

The Internet is Like a Radioactive Spider, See

June 9, 2009

One of the big omissions in this blog so far has been me talking about my Mysterious Project– rather silly, as it’s what I spend the vast majority of my time thinking about these days. It’s a multimedia narrative, told online through a mixture of websites, short video-clips, audio messages, emails and images. It’s called Unreal City and is scheduled to go live by August of this year. It’s the product of wanting to actually get my hands dirty, to tell a story through multiple media, to introduce the element of choice through branching narratives, to make lots of terrible and terribly ambitious mistakes, and collaborate with people with the kind of technical knowledge I could only hope to have. When people ask me the genre I generally say “it’s a conspiracy thriller” but that’s not quite right; I think, it’s more like a dream, a surreal and strange hallucination. The videos form the spine, but you the viewer-participant pick your own way through the map of the story, and get to draw your own conclusions though it’s not quite a game.

It’s been a kind of labour of love for me. It began when I couldn’t shut up about new media and interactivity and changing models of television and the notion that “screen media” has definitively expanded to encompass the computer/laptop screen.

It’s most obvious in terms of intersections– and most of the intersections between tv shows and the internet have been marketing-driven. Viral videos, online games, extra in-character material such as emails/reports/images/stories, behind-the-scenes material,– extra info, interviews with the production team and actors etc., the ability to catch up on or rewatch episodes (via channel websites like or services such as BBC iPlayer/Virgin OnDemand). But where it gets interesting is the blurry line between promotional and supplementary material.

NBC’s website for spy-comedy Chuck has “web exclusive content” like Morgan’s VLog, which features the characters in the show goofing off and recording silly, snarky video logs in their downtime at the BuyMore store. This is new content, but not in the same style or tone as the show, it couldn’t really exist without it, but it’s not a coherent part of the episodes. It’s marketing-via-content. Is it just promotional material? Well, the studio execs certainly want you to think so.

On the other hand, Battlestar Galactica aired 12 webisodes via its website on that fit between Seasons 2 and 3. The episodes had the same production and writing quality as the show, they were simply shorter in length. It was entirely new material that filled a gap within the televised narrative; the televised narrative worked without it, but the webisodes would have slotted in seamlessly. They performed a promotional function, whetting the appetite for the return of the show to the televisual screen, but they had a structure, purpose and enjoyment of their own and generated an enormous viewership. The computer screen wasn’t just channeling people to the televisual screen, it was working in sync with it.

And then of course, there’s the TV which has never been on a telly screen: gamer-comedy webseries The Guild, NBC’s scifi webseries starring Rosario Dawson Gemini Division. Of course, the latter is a masterclass in how to get it wrong. Not only is it badly written and unfortunately acted (Rosario Dawson is miscast, and looks genuinely uncomfortable attempting to do scifi) but the website is clunky, dark and scattered. Not only this, but in a wilfully stupid undermining of the particular strengths of the medium they’re using (ie, the internet), the video is inaccessible outside the US. Isn’t the entire point that distribution is global, cheap and easy?

But it’s really things that are a bit more that just video that get me going– Deleted is a webseries that’s also a social-media based game (problematic and not the most elegant integration of the ‘participatory’ elements, but lots of good ideas) or The Tulse Luper Suitcases by the extraordinary director Peter Greenaway (huge, sprawling, atmospheric game/narrative that’s interweaves history, science and 20th century politics– its flaw is really its daunting scale). There are also wonderful multimedia experiences that don’t utilise ‘video’ at all, say There’s Something In The Sea which is a story rather than the game, or Channel 4’s browser-based game Bow Street Runner, or the wonderful digital rewritings of canonical literature in Penguin’s exuberantly creative We Tell Stories project.

You could call them ‘alternate reality games’ or multimedia narratives or interactive narratives. It’s a flexible category which covers online narratives on a sliding scale of interactivity, collaboration and multimedia use– but what is just ridiculously cool about them is that they’re all telling stories, and they’re all using the opportunities of new media to do so. One of the big draws is of course collaborative storytelling (think Perplex City or The Beast) because I think if there’s an argument for TV slip-sliding to the internet, it’s going to be community that drives that. The ability to watch together, to create meaning together, to argue and discuss and interact and participate.

There’s this glorious push-pull, a tension between ‘appointment tv’ and community watching (which we all used to do, back when there was little choice, and still do for certain shows that have evolved a ritual about them– daily Hollyoaks or lunchtime Neighbours or Saturday evening Doctor Who) and a desire to make watching TV convenient and flexible, to fit around the demands of our lives via services like Sky On-Demand, or being able to record and rewatch shows, or catching them later on iPlayer. But TV’s movement towards the latter has left us watching in isolation, out of sync with everyone else, when it’s convenient for us– but we like to watch with others. We like to discuss with others. We used to be read to in community halls and now we take out DVD boxsets over to our mates’ houses.

The thing is: the internet is the best of both words. We can watch conveniently, at our own leisure and pace, and then go off into the ether of forums and mailing lists and find reviews, reactions, thoughts and even entire communities of people that are watching at the same pace as you two continents and several timezones away. Services like WatchItToo (in private BETA) are going in this direction, and I’ve definitely seen articles about Hulu and Youtube working on real-time commenting functions on videos– comments that are time-tagged, and appear in the sidebar as you watch, allowing you to engage in an ongoing discussion even when you’re watching at a completely different time to somebody else.

This is the way to build brand-loyalty and keep your audience: they come for the content, but stay for the friendships. Entertainment is social because we’re social creatures, and there’s no medium better than the internet for us to express that. Which is the long way of saying that’s why I think the internet is the future of TV.

It’s not the only reason. And really, saying “TV” is entirely outmoded. We really need to be just thinking about it in terms of “content”, or possibly just entertainment. The internet is the future because it’s going to take television and start growing entirely new narratives and entertainments out of it– it isn’t going to kill the radio star, like TV did, it’s going to mutate it, give it superpowers, and yes, Tokyo might get destroyed along the way and we might have to quietly bury some mangled corpses, but the change is coming. Might as well look forward to the good bits. And there are going to be lots of those.

Now that I’ve broken the silence, there will probably follow lots of thoughts on interactive narratives, multilinear fiction & game design. And of course, a link to the teaser website once it goes up.

Schwarzenegger is planning to replace text-books with e-books: the Guardian article is unecessarily smug* about this endeavour, but he makes several good points. Easily updateable, cheaper in the long run, more efficient, space-saving etc. (Plus, if like Amazon’s Kindle, the reader they choose has online access, it would be a valuable learning tool for those 10 out of 30 kids in certain Californian classrooms that don’t have computers at home.) It’s also being launched in conjunction with schemes to give pupils access to science and maths texts online. All of which is great. They don’t touch in this, but presumably (hopefully?) these measures gesture towards teaching kids about online learning and research. Weeding fact from fiction, Don’t Blindly Trust Wikipedia (Unless It’s About Pop-Culture), Chase Up References, repetition does not equal fact, thinking critically about authorship and provenance, using search engines and online resources effectively. Children are going to be picking this stuff up anyway, but they’re valuable skills. We should be teaching news-as-selection and understanding the techniques of persuasion and attention-economies and perhaps even the value of a little bit of old-fashioned paranoia. Use all the bounties and resources of the internet, but be healthily skeptical until proven otherwise.

*Also, seriously. ‘First the Terminator wanted to extinguish all human life, now he’s coming for your textbooks’. The article also claims that Gutenberg would have turned in his grave had he heard this idea. Why? He was obviously interested in facilitating the spread of content, and if the internet and digital formats do it more easily than books, it’s a continuation rather than perversion of his legacy. Rather like, uh, Project Gutenberg, a free ebook library named in his honour.

Chuck Season 2 finale

April 28, 2009

Casey: Chuck me!

This episode of Chuck is potentially a series finale as well, depending on whether it gets renewed. In the meanwhile, we can only hope for more silly but endearing stunts on the part of the winsome cast. And yes, I did use the word “winsome” with little to no irony. If you have a better way to describe Zachary Levi, Adam Baldwin, Yvonne Strahovsky and Joshua Gomez, I am open to suggestions.

This is the sort of strange, bit-of-fluff television that creeps up on you. The charisma and energy of the actors wears down the cynical portions of your brain (fact!) and the ever-more-absurd plot twists and LED-light driven scifi is reminiscent of early days Doctor Who, all that ramshackle futurism but with a bigger budget (read: bigger and more flashy flashy-lights). Their Webisodes were improvisational and obviously conceptualised by someone who understands youtube, not trying to be a digital version of the TV show but rather a little peek behind the scenes into the internet-life of the ‘Nerd Herd’ at Buy More. They added absolutely nothing to the overall plot, but counted very much as content in their own right, with a particular and distinctive humour, tone and appeal.

Even though this episode ends on a cliffhanger, it has all the elements of a great big traditional ending: a double wedding (well, the same wedding, twice. That counts, right?), hilarious in-laws, minor celebrity cameos, the return of old love rivals, the return of old villains, a family reunited, Chuck and Sarah’s love (very nearly) declared, a double cross, a sacrifice, a short montage sequence of moments from the last two seasons, and an ending which loops back over the beginning with Chuck downloading images from the intersect into his brain– only this time, he makes an informed choice. What began all this was an accident: now Chuck is choosing his path for himself.

Really, the entire series has been a coming-of-age drama in disguise– Chuck begins working a job he hates at the Buy More, socialising with a small group of people, living with his sister and her boyfriend, too afraid to pursue a relationship, still unable to get over his humiliations at university. He is trapped by his own fears and his own apathy. The Intersect– though it motivates a change in his life– is an externally dictated change. Again, Chuck is forced into a kind of life he does not want, he must keep secrets from his family and friends, endanger them, co-operate with the government, follow orders.

He has, in fact, the best excuse ever to keep his ‘real life’ at status quo. But along the way, forced and manipulated and bullied and frightened into doing so many things he does not want to do, Chuck starts thinking about what he does want to do. (Morgan’s journey, of course, parallels Chuck’s: he quits his job, embraces his girlfriend Anna, and sets out to start achieving his dream– to be a Hawai’ian chef)

The latter half of the second season show him vigorously pursuing step one of that plan on his own: get the Intersect out of his head. And in the episode previous to this one, he finally gets what he (thinks) he wants: the Intersect is out. His real life can begin. But as Chuck realises, perhaps a ‘normal life’ is not quite what he wants. His given values of ‘normal’ have shifted.

The big twist at the end will be divisive, I think: Chuck downloads the new version of the Intersect, and flashes with more than information. His CIA and NSA handlers watch openmouthed as Chuck– nerd extraordinaire– takes down a big bunch of armed evil spy guys holding them all hostage with nothing but his smooth moves. Surveying the disarmed and disabled spies, Chuck looks down at his hands, and then up at Sarah and Casey:

Chuck: Uh guys…I know kung-fu!

It’s a nice little reminder that despite the imprinted badass, Chuck is still an excited geek. But here’s the thing: we come back every week to watch Chuck muddle and bumble his way through saving the day. He’s sympathetic because he manages to be a hero despite not having superspy training, cool moves and/or being able to kill you with his brain. With his new Intersect superpowers, Chuck has turned (for narrative purposes) into Bryce, the classical hero-figure that the show sets him up in opposition to from the pilot onwards.

In fact, their roles curve neatly into each other: Chuck has everything Bryce had to begin with, his spy skills, the Intersect imprint meant for him, and Bryce’s ex-girlfriend Sarah. But there’s a reason that Bryce is a recurring character, and not the protagonist. This show is all about empowering the geeks, the nerds, the weirdos, the losers, but the computer in Chuck’s head just turned him into a cool kid.

I think this was a great ending for a series finale: Chuck gains agency, finally realises that bleating on about being ‘normal’ is stupid (there is no normal!), gets the girl, quits the Buy More, reunites with his father and becomes his sister’s hero for saving her wedding…and also turns into Charles Carmichael, to great comic and emotional effect. But it’s a dangerous season finale.

If and when Chuck comes back, I predict some serious backpedalling (rather like the first series ending/start of the second series of Heroes, where they realised they’d just supermanned Peter Petrelli to a degree that compromised the narrative, and gave him amnesia as a lazy and dull quick-fix). Chuck’s Intersect powers will prove to be all or a mix of these: a) fixedly conditional b) uncontrollable c) dangerous to his health d) too badass for the government to handle…

But, you know, I’m still hoping that we get to see the show get renewed cope with its choices. Even if it does it badly. It’ll still be a fun ride.

Sunday Media Roundup

April 19, 2009

It’s been far too long since I’ve done one of these, which means I’m going to have to be brief and selective about what I include here, as it would take far too much time to include the vast and frankly frightening quantities of media that I’ve consumed over the last few weeks.

  • Television

  • The Unusuals 1.01 “Pilot” starring Joan of Arcadia. Whuh? Apparently Amber Tamblyn grew up and landed a series. She plays detective Casey Shraeger, transferred in from Vice to Homicide so fast it’ll give you whiplash (“I was a hooker up until 10 minutes ago”) to fill the spot of Detective Walsh‘s partner who is now their number one case: he turned up dead in a park. He turns out not to have been such a great guy, or a great cop, but, that doesn’t matter: as Walsh says “you don’t kill a cop in New York”.

    What follows is a fairly standard hour of fluffy police drama that quite self-consciously regards itself as ‘quirky’. Adam Goldberg is charming as Det. Delahoy– who is dodging his doctor’s urgent calls because he’s deep in denial about having six months to live– while his partner Det. Banks is paralysed with fear because he believes something terrible is going to happen to him, or someone close to him, in his 42nd year. They spend this hour catching a cat-killer. And then setting a whole bunch of cats on him in a car. Everyone on this show has a secret– “cops have to have secrets”– Casey’s is outed almost immediately, she’s a poor little rich girl, kicked out of six expensive schools, the black sheep of the family because she chose to join the police force (“my daughter, the civil servant“, her dad sneers, at one point).

    The big reveal is: the department is in disorder, Casey– who, because of her background cannot be bribed or intimidated– has been transferred in to help ‘clean the house’. The pilot and the performances are interesting enough to merit watching another episode or two, but I have a feeling that it’s not going to step out of its safe little ‘quirky’ box anytime soon.

    From one overprivileged trust-fund girl to another: the Doctor Who Special: Planet of the Dead starring the lovely David Tennant and the Bionic Actress, Michelle Ryan. She plays Lady Christina, an aristocratic art thief who has terribly scripted motivations (‘I only steal because it’s an adventure!’) and seemingly no sense of self-preservation whatsoever (‘The aristocracy survives for a reason!’ she crows, about to plunge headfirst into a laser-field-secured alien space-ship shaft. Yes, and those reasons are ‘stealing’ and ‘being too pointless and silly to actually take seriously’.). I think she’s supposed to be cool and sexy and black-catsuited, an amoral, unflappable, risk-addicted Companion who brings out the thrillseeking, slightly dubious side of the Doctor (‘The worse it gets, the more I like it’) but instead it gets very Timelords and Ladies in Space, daaaahlink, what-ho.

    I also have to agree with Lawrence Miles on this one: they appear to have stopped actually writing for David Tennant, and are instead writing for David Tennant. As much as I like his rush-rush-rush rhythms and excitable performance of the Doctor, it’s pushed into caricature in this Special; the only real memory I have of the plot is David Tennant mugging. And some metallic stingrays.

    The other people on the bus are pointless dogsbodies who do menial labour and/or have cryptic but practically useless visions, but that doesn’t really matter because this really isn’t an ensemble show. The inexplicably popular Lee Evans plays Malcolm Taylor, nominally a UNIT doctor but really a transparent fan-figure insert (‘Doctor. The Doctor? Oh my god.’ etc.) who does everything short of asking Doctor Who to sign his autograph book. (Do people even have those any more or am I showing my age?)

    The pilot of SNL-regular Amy Poehler‘s new show, Parks and Recreation, following a group of city officials in Indiana’s tiny Parks and Recreation department. It’s generally been marketed as The Office with a side order of small-town government but it’s got a bit more in common with docu-feel, chatty, personality-driven US comedy shows Curb Your Enthusiasm or Arrested Development. At the moment it isn’t as dark as Larry David or as outre as the family-politics of the Bluths, nor is it as cringe-comedy driven as The Office: it’s the sort of weird, earnest, colourful offering you might expect if Wes Anderson decided to take to the episode form with a single-camera.

    The pilot does a credible job of introducing us to these varied characters without making them gross generalisations, and of course, most of the credit has to go to the ensemble cast who all have great chemistry with each other. Poehler is the star of the bunch, Leslie Knope takes herself painfully seriously, but is also eminently likeable. As Rashida Jones’s character points out, “she’s a bit of a doof, but she seems nice?” Ron Swanson, a head of department who hates government, provides lots of the actual laugh-out-loud moments in the pilot. All in all, an interesting offering with a charismatic cast. Give it a couple of episodes to refine its voice, and I predict it’s going to be a surprise success.

    It’s almost too depressing to talk about the last two Dollhouse episodes, 1.08 “Needs” and 1.09 “Spy in the House of Love”. In “Needs”, the core group of Dolls we’ve been following– Echo, Sierra, November and Victor (plus a redshirt)– wake up one morning with consciousness. They have only brief flashes of memory about who they are, but are no longer the childlike, acquiescent simpletons that they usually are between engagements. Each Doll goes out into the world to deal with the issues that brought them to the Dollhouse– except Echo who comes back in and attempts to liberate the other Dolls. At which point its revealed that this is all part of a plan concieved by Dr. Saunders (Amy Acker) to help the Dolls achieve closure, and purge errant bits of their personality. Hello and goodbye, agency. It was nice while it lasted.

    Yet again, Sierra is the focus of all the sexual creepiness of the Dollhouse. Not only was she abused within the house, by her Handler (see: 1.06 “Man on the Street”) but the reason she’s even there is because she refused some rich guy who couldn’t handle a ‘no’, instead spent a lot of time and effort making her into a mindwiped puppet that he then hires out on a semi-regular basis. “Sometimes you even beg for it”, he tells her. Ugh. Not only is she the focus of this creepy and disgusting male attention, but even her ‘conscious’ plotline deals with sexuality in the form of Victor’s crush on her, and their relationship. It seems like Sierra is just a locus for male sexual fixation, the fact that Victor’s crush on her is sweet and genuine does not change that.

    “Spy In the House of Love” is slightly more interesting. In a nice twist, the b-plot involves Adele DeWitt– who, through a series of hidden aliases and machinations, has been using the services of Victor for a while now, and is Miss Lonely Heart. Their fresh and (seemingly) intense relationship is mixed up with all of the weirdness and self-awareness and ickiness of the Dollhouse. Adele knows that Victor’s imprint is not real, but her feelings for him most certainly are. The A-plot involves a potential NSA investigation into the Dollhouse, and a spy. It was generic, not particularly tense and only really worth is for the reveal: Dominic is the spy. But he hasn’t been sent to destroy the Dollhouse, rather he’s been sent to make sure they are safe, and that their potentially disastrous and frightening mindwiping technology does not fall into the wrong hands. At the end of the episode he’s sent to the Attic (creepy!) but not before telling Echo that the Dollhouse is so stupid that they can’t even see that she’s going to bring them down one day.

    Other episodes watched: Castle 1.05 & 1.06 (Nathan Fillion is still awesome), Caprica feature-length pilot, all of Supernatural: Season 3, The Tudors 3.01, 3.02, latest eps of House and Chuck, the pilot of Kings (Soap-y, biblical, fun in a highly kitschy way)

  • Film

  • In The Loop is the film version of the wildly talented Armando Ianucci’s television show, In The Thick of It. (Small confession here: I’ve only seen a few episodes of this show, but I’m in general an Ianucci fan– The Day Today, The Armando Ianucci Shows, Time Trumpet, his Radio 4 show Charm Offensive &c). It’s a satirical look at governmental politics and operation– domestically and internationally. Peter Capaldi as Alastair-Darling-a-like spin doctor Malcolm Tucker is scathing, scabrous and endlessly charismatic in a way that makes you feel dirty on the inside. The film itself is vigorously and abundantly cynical, filthy and hilarious. Government officials come in flavours varying from incompetent to fiendishly manipulative, plagued by endemic and systemic stupidity and weakness.

    It’s not funny despite the bleakness of its world view, it’s funny precisely because of it– In The Loop is gallows-humour. The inventiveness and range of the swearing in this film is worth the ticket price alone, and you won’t even mind that the plot is basically a gigantic excuse for witty one-liners and some great character-acting. If you don’t see it for Peter Capaldi, go for Gina McKee‘s sole and ignored voice of competence, or James Gandolfini‘s scene-stealing peprformance as General Miller.

  • Books

  • This week I finished the witty and informative Bad Science by Ben Goldacre. If you have any interest in the media, science, journalism, or understanding the facts and figures reported to you by the media, then go out and get this book. And read the Bad Science blog, which posts un-copy-edited versions of Dr Goldacre’s column in the Guardian.

    I’m currently reading Vernor Vinge’s Rainbow’s End which is a lucid, inventive look at our digital futures, and the moral problems of technological advancement. What is strange about this novel is that none of the characters are particularly likeable. Robert Gu– now-cured Alzheimer’s patient, world-famous poet and outsider to the digital world– is an irascible, arrogant, egotistical old man trapped in a young man’s body (quite an incisive and acid portrait of a creative academic, sort of part Martin Amis, part VS Naipaul). The other strand of the novel deals with the implications for national and international security in an increasingly digital, augmented world– touching on issues of anonymity, nuclear proliferation and indeed mind-control techology that has been surreptitiously tested using marketing/advertising as a cover (Dollhouse would do well to take note!). It’s very clearly set in a paranoid and terrorism-aware post-9/11 world.

    Also reading Ghost Wars by Steve Coll, which deals with the CIA’s role in Afghanistan, and broader issues: the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the role of covert operations and actions, the rising threat of Jihadism in the post-communist political scenario, basically pointing out the historical continuities that lie underneath the present political climate.

  • Misc

  • There’s Something in the Sea is a trailer/alternate reality-type promotional website for Bioshock 2. It’s creepy, utterly gorgeous, and well-worth twenty minutes of your day to pick through. District 9, the alternate-reality game for the upcoming racism-parable movie of the same name is also fun and witty. The main website is that of Multi-National United, a large corporation that has been given control over alien techology, and is nominally in charge of making sure that aliens are properly identified, housed and segregated from the human population. Click non-human on the website and get treated differently. It’s much more fun that way. Also worth a look is the careers opportunities website linked from there.