Saturday, April 11, 2015

Liking - Daredevil (2015) TV Series - Netflix

Just watched the first episode of Daredevil from Netflix.

Quite liked it.

Nice to see Marvel is now creating good TV shows.  DC Comics has been much better on the small screen (Smallville, The Flash, Gotham, Arrow) and has only recently had any competition from Marvel (Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Agent Carter).
Daredevil is a very good choice for TV - the character has limited powers - mainly trained as an "normal" ultimate fighter level athelete, with an enhanced radar sense and other senses to compensate for his blindness.  This makes the storylines easier to create, as you don't have to create powerful (but with some glaring weakness that can be punched) villians each week.  This is also why I like DC's Gotham - the storylines are typical detective stories, which can draw from a long history of comic book "reality".  In both series, they seem to be thinking longer term - not starting with the big guns (e.g. young Bruce Wayne isn't fighting Joker in episode one), and letting the character side of the stories develop.
This was the key revelation of Marvel in the "Bronze age" - they brought characterization and depth to the stories - it wasn't all the "superhero" - they had lives, problems, relationships which were often at odds with carrying on the "secret life".  It basically allowed for several stories to be interwoven, and reduced the need to find new ways to hit people - you'd follow Peter Parker, or Johnny Storm out on dates, or to job interviews, in addition to the confusion caused when they had to run to be Spider-Man or the Torch.

Smallville led the way with the logic of having Clark's life be the fo
cus.  Had "Superboy" appeared early in the series, it probably wouldn't have run for 10 seasons, as the pressure to have Superboy appear more often would be constant, and the depth of stories would have been lost as a consequence.

The actual "Nelson and Murdock" law firm - Universal Studios - Florida
Daredevil is perfect tool for this medium - his life story is deep enough (comparable to the pathos inspired by Bruce Wayne-Batman) with his single-parent father being pressured by the mob to throw fights (at least that was the comics version), and Matt Murdock's blindness through heroic accident (both comic and TV), provide a stable base to create the story.

Looking forward to the rest of the series.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Dance TV Series

Oddly, I seem to have amassed a knowledge of Dance TV series over the past few years.  My daughter is heavily into dance, so it seemed somewhat normal to watch TV series devoted to dance.  Here are a few I've come across.

Dance Academy (Australia TV Series) - 3 seasons

I really liked Dance Academy, which is set in a dance school in Australia, where students compete over three years to become company dancers for the national Ballet company.  The series is set in Sydney, very near the Opera House.
The basic storyline is about Tara, who is a farm girl with dreams of ballet.  She trains locally and auditions for the school, and is accepted.

The series is in "real time" with each season corresponding to one year at the school.  The dance seems real, so either actors in Australia are really multi-talented, or they recruited dancers and taught them to act.  The series is basically a soap opera of the lives going on in this setting, with the effects that the students' life choices make on their careers.

This show does deal with actual issues - there is a sub-plot of male dancers dealing with their sexual orientation, there is a sub-plot dealing with eating disorders, a lot of issues dealing with rivalry and sabotage and jealously.  Watching the show in "batch mode" these issues all seem to be resolved very quickly - maybe watching weekly would increase the dramatic effect.

Dance Moms - U.S. - 5 Seasons (ongoing)
Dance Moms is a painful to watch "reality" series about a dance school in Pittsburg and the terrible parents who take their daughters there.  Abby Lee Miller is the principal character and owner of the studio, and each week she takes her students to a performance, seemingly with life or death on the line.  At the start of each show, Miller has a pyramid, wherein she ranks her dancers, setting the angst for the week.
The emergence of one of the dancers, Madeline Ziegler, who gained fame as on a pair of videos for Sia, has kinda killed any motivation for the other kids - Miller has always pointed to Maddy as the "best", and all the breaks, and all the attention Miller provides to the kids seems to be geared to Maddy and her sister Mackenzie - the others seem to be treated as accessories to the main show.

Two of the initial dance moms have left the show, and there are lawsuits flying.  Very hard to figure out what is real and what is fake.  Most of the competitions seem staged, as a parent of a competitive dancer, the rooms are generally packed to the rafters with dance families, and the stage is crammed with dancers for any awards.  It seems that Miller's competitions have a few competitors at most, and only careful camerawork keeps the empty audience seats from dominating the frame.

As a lesson in dance?  Dance Moms shows the worst of the industry - a powermad "teacher/agent" playing favourites.  "Reality"?  I suspect it started low key and relatively real, but even at the start, it is difficult to imagine a real teacher "ranking" their students each week so publicly, and difficult to imagine a dance school that trains a new dance routine (solos, duos, teams etc.) each week for a different competition.  The kids are all good dancers, but the situations are often staged, or at least edited to such an extreme that the continuity of the discussions is difficult to follow - the "look" or the "cutting comment" seem to be edited into where-ever it would evoke drama, not where it was uttered.

I think the students all gained fame from the show - as they continue, not sure if they are actually gaining anything - being perpetual "also-rans" to Miller's favourites gets old and damaging after a while.  I have more respect for the parents who manage to come in for a week or two and then leave - their child gets some reflected fame, but doesn't get the negativity that comes with not being a Ziegler.

As a parent, I would not have let my daughter continue in Miller's studio, assuming there is any correlation between what is portrayed and what actually happens.  Should my daughter have been one of the featured dancers on every week, the trade-off with exposure vs. Miller's asinine teaching methods would have been more difficult.  I can understand the frustration of the mom's who left (who felt under-appreciated and insulted on the show) and the ones who stayed (feel the exposure is "worth" the humiliation) - though I will admit that I'm basing this opinion only on what I can see on the fake "reality show" with the dramatically edited scenes.

Bunheads (2012) US

I only watched a few episodes of the ABC series Bunheads - the basic storyline is a professional dancer returning "home" and running her mom's old studio (or something).

Breaking Pointe (2012) US

Breaking Pointe seems to be a more realistic "reality show" than "Dance Moms", though it deals with an older group of dancers in a professional troupe in Salt Lake City UT.  This series ran two seasons, though I haven't yet started to watch.

TV Series - Manhattan (2014 - present)

Watched the 1st season of Manhattan, which is a series set in the WWII project to create the atomic bomb.  The Manhattan project was based in New Mexico, and was really built on a blank desert slate - everyone was moved in, the townsite was created, security constant.
The history is not represented perfectly, but the feeling of being trapped, some of the main characters (Leslie Groves, Robert Oppenheimer) are around, but I don't think the actual goal is historical realism.

The characters are all pretty well built, and it plays like a modern, non-comedy M*A*S*H - they creators have a degree of control over characters that they don't have in non-military shows - they can make somebody disappear, or bring in virtually any character "new" simply by invoking the draft, or the needs of the military.

The Manhattan scientists are basically split into two camps, one popular and well funded, and the other, smaller and not highly supported by the establishment.  Each are pursuing their own models for the atomic bomb, with the fear that Heisenberg in Germany is a few months ahead - the fear of falling behind on the project, and that being the entire WWII ballgame is well displayed and likely a reflection of how the project felt to the real-world folks.

Glad it was picked up for season 2 - highly recommended.