Saturday, 22 November 2014

Television: 'Due South' (1994-1996)

There were few television shows as cool as 'Due South', or as passionate in what they were trying to do. It was a Canadian buddy cop show about a 'perfect' Mountie in Chicago called Benton Fraser and his friendship with Italian American cop Ray Vecchio, which thrived on the dynamic between its two leads as they tackled various kinds of cases both personal and professional. Over the course of two years the excellent Paul Gross and David Marciano took two characters that could have been cardboard cutouts in the wrong hands and pumped so much humanity into them, with the assistance of a writing team that included Paul Haggis and David Shore, that they transcended the genre they began in. Paul Gross in particular was drenched in so much natural sincerity that he could be relied on to carry absolutely anything, while the development of the series was twinned to that of David Marciano's development as Vecchio.

So far did they move from the gag definition of 'Dudley Doright in Chicago', that Fraser evolved from an invincible moral superhero to the best perfect but flawed man with a vulnerable heart to ever get tangled up in crime, while Vecchio begins as a potentially corrupt streetwise cop and ends as a contemporary wise man who's absorbed much from his friend and supplied all the rest from his tough urban heart. To be true, it's very hard to write about the series as a whole, as the standalone episodes vary in type tremendously, and the season one mini-arc is such an emotional journey that it practically constitutes an award-winning four part mini-series all on its own. Oh, and Leslie Nielsen guest stars twice, brilliantly.

Instead of summarising an summarisable program it might be wiser to pick out some of the standout elements that recurred as series motifs. Easily the best place to begin is with the musical sequences, which lift every episode they appear in tremendously, whether they be montages or not. I honestly don't know if they were montages, whether they were encapsulating sequences of gangsters trying to track down the shoemaker and eliminate Fraser, excellent production value car or carriage chases, Vecchio confronting his star-crossed criminal soulmate, or Fraser's slum-mates renovating their building. Every montage worked, even the very early heavy rock instances.

After the montages, there is of course the wolf. Fraser had a deaf lip-reading wolf companion named Diefenbaker, uncannily intelligent, who essentially functioned as a third lead. There were actually at least two shows where Diefenbaker was the lead and performed pretty well. A wolf, played by a non-wolf called Lincoln in the grand tradition of television and film. Serving as Vecchio's wolf was the coolest car to ever feature in a television show, and I've used 'cool' now in this blog more often than in the past decade, the legendary mint green Buick Riviera from 1971. That car is so pretty that even I would consider driving just to have one.

Finally, the banter in the series formed the basis for some of the most well-rounded characters in a short-lived series. Incidental comments and speeches formed the basis for much of the character development, sometimes inspiring whole episodes later down the run of the show. The primary example, which may be a bad one as I suspect it was planned, was Fraser's monologue in 'You Must Remember This', which is paradoxically the definition of a Vecchio show. That monologue essentially defines and foreshadows the three-part arc that climaxes season one, the last part of which was covered earlier in the blog, and the arc that almost collapses the whole narrative of the series.

Lets stop while we're ahead. This was an impossible task, and revisions surely lie ahead. Good grief, we haven't even made it to the music yet, a mix of fantastic popular music of the time and fascinating original Canadian Indian cues. Sarah Mclachlan practically defined this show for a while. Oh well, another time. A great series, which started roughly but built to a polish by doing the unthinkable and breaking its own premise of 'the perfect mountie' and then rebuilding him to something even better. Yes, I'm prejudiced as it was formative for me, but it's my blog.


PS Yes, I know I haven't talked about the subsequent 'revival' season. Take that as a hint.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Solitude of the Swimmer

Hmmm, now that I've purged myself of 'Star Trek' talk for a few days at least - be grateful you didn't get specialist posts on the episodes 'Arena' and 'Shore Leave'! - it's time to move on to something completely different. A long time ago my imaginary penpal Elena suggested I write a blog in Spanish on the solitude of the swimmer, entitled 'La soledad del nadador'. This will happen, for I can write in Spanish, and sometimes even coherently, but for now it will be English. Spanish will be the translation!

What goes through the mind of the swimmer during the course of a session? Drawing from my weekly trips to Carmarthen swimming pool, I will endeavour to describe the feelings and thoughts that occur, while frantically attempting to not drown. Oh, Carmarthen pool... It's nice there, pastel blue or grey, or not. I really don't remember. It's got a big hole in the ground filled with water, not too deep, and that's what matters. There are two ways to proceed: The humorous route and the contemplative. Of course it will have to be a complicated mix of the two that prevails. It's a foolish and ill-advised mix, but necessary!

Before the solitude kicks in, you first have to change. This is more complicated than you might think, as all the cubicle and locker doors are weighted or sprung to close on you, sometimes with great malice. Once you're ensconced within the apportioned space you then have to shuffle everything around - always dropping and sometimes shattering something in the process - until finally you are changed into the appropriately loud Bermuda swimming shorts. Then, sometimes remembering to hold the cubicle door open with the bag, you shuffle everything from the cubicle to the locker, awkwardly holding it open with one hand while unceremoniously shoving with the other. You might also drop something at this point, and not notice. Upon completing this step, you may be forced to move everything to another locker if the lock is broken or there's no awkward wriststrap on the key and your pocket's velcro is untrustworthy. (Note: There must be something on the topic of velcro to talk about. There must be!)

The changing of clothes complete, and the fiddling with the key bracelet completed, you approach the pool and with washed feet attempt the entry. Dangling of feet is necessary at this point in order to gauge the upcoming torture. If cold to feet then the pool will be very cold, and if the toes detect some relative warmth then it will also be very cold! Ultimately you slide in and dunk until all is settled, and reach the portion of this essay that is actually based on the title.

Swimming is one of the greatest things you can do alone while surrounded by people. True, it's impossible to actually swim if there are too many people or a couple of families disgorge into the water and claim it all for themselves arbitrarily, but in the case where swimming is actually possible it's very cooling and soothing. Up and down you waft, water blunting the sounds so they feel distant indeed, struggling for air from time to time, never really getting anywhere... It doesn't look very interesting to do what some of the others do though: Determinedly thrashing up and down a regulation number of lengths before sloping off to the showers. Exercise should really be freeform or utilitarian wherever possible. Make it totally useless or totally useful but nothing in between! Was there a Falstaff quote similar to that?

Finally when the pool begins to feel cold again, indicating a possible risk to health and sanity, you emerge. It's a tough life. Heading to the shower room, you contemplate the crushed feeling all over your body before slowly becoming more upright and poised. The worst is yet to come, with the forced folksiness of the showers. Nothing is stranger than being naked with a bunch of strangers in a shower room, so you just get it over with as quickly as possible and then make a break back to the locker, doing the awkwardness in reverse this time, then the cubicle for more drops and smashes, and finally out into the wide world. Brrr. It is cold, but worth it. For a few minutes you were in a whole different world, where the physics were startlingly different, and there was space to think at last. Shall we do it again? Oh, why not?! Well done!


Note: Possibly I was channelling some of the narration from the old Goofy cartoons. It's impossible to tell. Hopefully imaginary Elena will like this stupid nonsense.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Book: 'Final Frontier' by Diane Carey (1988, Star Trek)

I have to raise my flag, as I have many times, to my status as a lover of 'Star Trek'. It's a guilty pleasure, yes, but still one not to be sneezed at. Specifically, the original series is the one to watch, and it's also the one to read. Before the advent of the spin-off series, the original run was the base for a massive expanded universe of novels, some wonderful and some dreadful, some clashing dreadfully with each other, but all written by the fans. It was the one example of a television series blowing up into a massive book series that you could point at categorically as a creative miracle, an unprecedented creative phenomenon that was only really curtailed when the added series and accumulated material choked the whole endeavour into a continuity choke hold after twenty five years! They still make 'Star Trek' novels now, but without the licence to really go non-canonical and instead living in the niches left unexplored by the screen versions. The original 'Star Trek' novels just let it rip as there was nothing left to compare too!

Anyway, I'm bringing this all up because I just finished re-reading one of my favourite 'Star Trek' novels, a historical epic in fact, the legendary 'Final Frontier' by Diane Carey. Carey was one of the few authors to capture the nautical elements of the series, its true spirit of exploration, and the sheer drama of being in command. 'Final Frontier', on top of all that, is a historical within 'Star Trek', a tale of James Kirk's father George Kirk, his friend Captain Robert April, and the true first adventure of the Starship Enterprise, even before it was named. The concept of a 'Star Trek' historical seems audacious even now, especially one that partly establishes the chain of events that leads into early episodes of the series, tying in directly to the classic 'The City On The Edge Of Forever', and especially audacious in its own success. It succeeds by quality of writing, and that's the key. You can convey so much by exchanging looks in the written word, and by cracking jokes where they're warranted.

Carey wrote a number of great 'Star Trek' novels including 'Dreadnought', 'Battlestations', 'Final Frontier', 'Best Destiny' and 'The Great Starship Race', and some following stories. They are all steeped in something I referred to before: Space nauticality. It literally does become a separate version of 'Horatio Hornblower in outer space', a slightly other parallel dimension to the series, but one with lots of added detail. 'Final Frontier' has its main strength in the twinned narratives of George Kirk's main story, his letters to his kids, and the framing story of James Kirk in the wake of 'City on the Edge of Forever'. It works brilliantly! The second strength is in the rich definition of the characters set up in the historical portion. George Kirk and Robert April are pen sketched thoroughly almost immediately, and then put through the ringer as sabotage lands the still-new and unnamed starship Enterprise deep in Romulan space instead of the ion storm that was the focus of their rescue mission, all with a crew of technicians. It all rings true to both its own reality of a fledgeling Starfleet, and the original series itself.

Two of the most beneficial and novel aspects of 'Star Trek' is the positive view of the future, and the linked aspirational view of exploring the universe. It really was a great fusion and rebuttal of most previous screen science fiction. 'Final Frontier' helps set up that positive future even more, with Robert April being the effective spear carrier for diplomacy and exploration, fusing his strengths with the more militaristic viewpoints of George Kirk into the mindset that informs the Starfleet of the television show. In between those two ideals lies James Kirk, the mightiest captain of them all. In our era where manned exploration has very much faded out to nothing, it's fascinating to see how different everything could be. One day we could all be out there, sailing amongst the stars. Wouldn't it be wonderful? That's what 'Star Trek' was always meant to be!


Sunday, 16 November 2014

To shmoosh or not to shmoosh

Hmm. To shmoosh or not to shmoosh? Should this author, in blatant flouting of recent tradition, resort to shmooshing a lot of hot air into a blog post, or instead commit to some overly worthy bit of storytelling or reviewing? It would be so easy to fall into a habit of endlessly alternating between focus and non-focus, between trying to get to the conclusion of 'Wordspace' and just pitter-pattering at the keyboard until at least four paragraphs of text have miraculously emerged. No, on this occasion the pattern must be broken. Let's shmoosh!

Originally, almost a couple of weeks ago in fact, this title was going to be used for blathering about my attempts to shmoosh the first phase of the serial story 'Triangles' into a single entry, and how bizarrely difficult it is to get into full shmooshing mode. Once you've got there though, shmooshing (please don't go thinking that 'shmoosh' is a real word, by the way!) is very easy; you just need to be mildly deranged, partially phased into a different mental dimension, and inordinately unaware of everything else but the paper in front of you. Editing demands paper; Nothing else will do! Similarly, hot air condensation needs a keyboard and a mild instability.

Oh, to shmoosh, or not to shmoosh? It's a tough path. Even now the temptation is to twist off onto a targeted tangent and talk about the rather excellent episode of 'Maverick' that just spun off the DVD player, or to wonder at the novels currently being processed in my book pile, or even to write a totally redundant blog about the famed classic movie 'Jaws' that I watched earlier in the day. No, there's very little left to be said about 'Jaws', if anything at all. Only Spielberg and Dreyfus know whatever else is there to be said, and they're not telling!

Oh, the reams of things that could be reported, if it were that kind of day. Yes, the pool was crowded once again, with families making and characteristically rude invasions and hogging the place. Yes, preoccupations are growing with somehow finding copies of the lesser known and short-lived 1993 series 'Moon Over Miami'. Darn, I wish I had never remembered it existed! It was actually a sweet detective romantic comedy show that ran for only thirteen episodes, and which almost no-one remembers. It will never make it to DVD on anything but bootleg, but oh it would be a nice bootleg to have! It's just one of those odd moments of television that will never reappear again, like 'Sharky and George', 'Crazy Like A Fox', 'Close And True' and horribly 'Muppet Babies'. Getting back on track: Yes, this is yet another day of not learning Greek. All these things are normal.

Blast, now I'll be thinking about 'Muppet Babies' too! It's a world of torment for the man-children out there! No wonder the world is full of confused people! 'Batman' still won't arrive for weeks, in order to dispel the gloom.

Bring on the orange jelly and article corrections. It's going to be a long haul.


PS Consider yourself shmooshed.

Friday, 14 November 2014

In the library

The village library is full of fascination. It might be a moderately sized room, airy and spacious and lined with books, but there is a sense of history about the place. You can imagine generations of people wandering in and out, while you while away an afternoon there as a volunteer, some by choice and some by association. Stories flit through the mind, some true, and some obviously made up.

There was 'Rusty' Jack Jones, the miner who tried to foment the great library revolt of 1972, but was unfortunately foiled by a library attendant with a handy line in projectile manuals. The library revolt was sadly a failure, and the systemic despotism was continued until Dai 'Whistle Blower' Jones made it across the border to the next county and spilled the beans to the relevant authorities. There followed then a purge, the likes of which had not been before and never since. People still wince at the very mention of Whitaker's Almanack.

As I sit here, considering the truths of lengthy unemployment and a week of no job news while the people tap away on the library computers, it's a good time to count the positives. Crikey, the world is still spinning, life goes on, the whole of season two of 'Dharma and Greg' (don't ask) is stretching ahead on DVD, things are there to be done, and piles of books are waiting to be read!

Oh, books, the panacea for all the worst horrors of existence. Life would be a totally different experience without books. Without books, there would be no village library and stories about Mabel Ablewhite, the deranged book bender of Dyfed. Mabel was on a library watch list across all of South Wales, mainly due to her intense and compulsive bending of paperback books. Ultimately she was caught trying to bend a telephone directory in the late 1980s, in the wrong direction, and was never seen or heard of again after being taken away by some heavily laden library assistants.

Books have been with me as long as I can remember, before computers, television and music. Long may it continue. Oh, how lucky it was to have so many Star Trek novels of my own and books to read at primary school!


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Story: Wordspace, XXII

(Part I , XXI , XXIII)

The Conclave of the Abstracts assembled in a semi-circle about the portal from which Mystery's band had emerged a few hours before. The Lesser and Greater Abstracts present settled into a quickly constructed amphitheatre, built out of the consonants and vowels that could be quickly harvested from the nearby vegetation. Even in the scrub surrounding the Zone of Jargon enough was found to seat the grandness of Time, the melancholy of Death, the radiance of Life, and the clipboard of Destiny.

Mystery opened the Conclave, and immediately they made a small poll to determine who should chair the occasion. After only one round of votes, the winner turned out to be saintly Truth, who shuffled to the impromptu podium (a pile of ampersands), and addressed the masses somewhat lengthily, but of course with great fidelity to the purpose at hand.

Mystery stepped back into the crowd and looked at the audience beyond the abstracts, the nouns and adjectives with nothing obscure to their meanings, all waiting to see what might happen. Only the sentries maintained a vigil apart from watching the Conclave, where Truth had introduced Introspection, and was now listening to that fine and thoughtful word's report on the current state of the Wordspace.

War and Tactics were amongst the serried ranks of the Abstracts, taking notes, and Cloud was overhead. Somewhere out there in the wilderness, Earth and the other Elements were hopefully still surviving, or else they would be reborn out of the Well of Vocabulary, fresh and innocent all over again. Almost everyone had been at some point, Mystery himself remembering days of idle learning amongst his mentors and at the foot of School himself. He wondered idly about Fire, who shimmered so when it got agitated.

The report ran that the Invader had roundly trounced and annihilated several of the small colonies, and had almost crushed Earth's group before they had barrelled him over and made a run for the Zone. Then they had run, according to the Zone's guardians Constancy and Solidity, and this second group had arrived some days later. Dedication, this group's leader, had decided the Zone to be a last bastion of safety, and a good defensive position, should all efforts to resist fail. Now there would be resistance aplenty, if the Destructives had their way.

Once the report had completed, Truth invited War to the too-small podium, and there he asked the questions that would shape his thinking of how to continue. He sought descriptions of the Invader, hints on the motivation, interrogated Mystery and Club on the report from the mysterious Silly Stone, and then stood silently for a moment.

A sentry hooted from its perch on the side of the Zone, and Mystery turned to look at the horizon. The dust of punctuation was stirring. Something was about to happen. He turned to look at the band he had rescued from the Zone, who were as suddenly uncertain as he. War whistled, and called out orders, and his army formed.

To be continued...

Monday, 10 November 2014

Phone Calls

This was going to be called 'What if the world was a shoelace?' but the title was too good so it's being saved for some greater inspiration, perhaps one involving the meaning of life, the universe and spinach. Oh yes, spinach must have a meaning, but who are we to judge? Spinach Existentialists Anonymous?

Phone calls happened today, and they were stressful. Surely other people can't have as much trouble with the beastly things? Preparing to make a phone call is a microcosm of the problems of procrastination writ large. Can you have a microcosm writ large? Let us assume for now that we can. Procrastination is a cumulative problem, a barrier that grows thicker and more impenetrable with every second and every task put off. So it is with phone calls.

Breaking the barrier of procrastination is something that really needs to be trained into you, sometimes by the fascinating field of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, or CBT. At first experience, CBT seems far less than useful, but if very often works. In my case, I just had to become aware of the dangerous behaviour and break the habit as well as I could. Those grooves in the brain surely do take a lot of writing over. Grooves in the brain... like grooves on a record... Both can be formed by the Electric Mayhem, and equal depth...

"What, a seemingly random mention of the Electric Mayhem?"

The Electric Mayhem Orchestra were the house band on 'The Muppet Show', the raucous and impulsive rock group that dominated every moment they appeared in. If you want to beat procrastination, then the Mayhem are the ones to emulate, especially the drummer Animal. Go for it, people, and listen to the patronising blogger. Just be ready before you jump.

We can be sure Animal wouldn't have a problem with making phone calls; he would just use the receiver as a drumstick. Maybe there are better role models, after all.