Thursday, May 28, 2015

SNARL: Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

There has been a big kerfluffle about the Hugo awards in Science Fiction this year, and most of it has been about the political and cultural implications of the works and the award process. At this point we have a set of nominees. I will be voting in August for which author will take home the coveted rocket-shaped Hugo trophy(s). I have read and reviewed the five nominees for Best Novella and for best short story.  This is an actual composite review by me of all the nominated short form Best Dramatic Presentation nominees. All of these reviews may (will) contain spoilers.

I am not, in general, a big fan of TV. However, almost everything I watch, or want to watch, is on this list. My reviews for the Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form category will be short. They will be short enough that I can fit them all together on this one post. I present them in the same order in which they appear on the Hugo nominations list.

This is a review of the entire Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form category
(938 nominating ballots, 470 entries, range 71-170)

Doctor Who:Listen”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Douglas Mackinnon (BBC Television).

I kinda overstated not being a fan of TV. Elements of Dr. Who have been a staple part of my family's vernacular for years. Being late is “getting caught up in wibbly-wobbly timey-whimey stuff”. I have been known to offer people jelly beans at oddly inappropriate times, and insist on calling them “Jelly Babbies”. I like the new re-boot (that’s now a decade old, so maybe a little too old to call it a “new” reboot). I like Peter Capaldi as the newest doctor; although if he lightened up on the Scottish accent I might understand a few more of his lines.

I am not a big fan of everything DW. I never much cared for the Sarah Jane Adventures, and the imagining of the Tardis as a big benevolent house is tempting a shark jump, which is almost inconceivable for a series that uses shark-jumping as a plot device. I also did not find “Listen” to be amongst my most favorite episodes.

“Listen” scrapes greatness as a DW episode several times. The idea that the scary monster under the bed could actually be a real monster that is actually under the bed is a classic bit of DW silliness. The use of chalkboards in a hyper-advanced craft with mind-meld interfaces is fun and visually provocative.

The use of touching childhood stories to humanize the Doctor is counter productive. The Doctor appears too human most of the time, and working to make him more human is only work that will have to be undone in the future.

So I have mixed, but generally positive, and admittedly prejudiced, feelings towards this episode of DW. I give it 7 stars (out of 10).

The Flash:Pilot”, teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, story by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, directed by David Nutter (The CW) (Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television)

I did not like this show, and the pilot was the only episode I managed to actually watch. The writers did almost engage in the creation of an engaging backstory, but then stopped before they succeeded. I picture it being written by a committee of writers where everyone refuses to really listen to the guy with good ideas unless they can somehow make them their own. The plot suffers, but does not disintegrate. It is the framework for a good story, but not a good story.

All the actors are beautiful and clean. They can deliver lines well enough, but they sounded more like they wanted to be in a “Saved By The Bell” remake rather than a super-hero show. I was not moved by them, but I did not turn off the computer in disgust.

So this was “meh”. I give it 5 stars (out of 10).

Game of Thrones: The Mountain and the Viper”, written by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss, directed by Alex Graves (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)

I was unable to watch this show. I love the books, and have devoured each one as soon as it came out. I have a first edition copy of the first book. I have heard the show is excellent, and I want to watch it. However, HBO has been aggressively pursuing people who download this, and been making it rather unavailable otherwise. I anticipate binge watching it at some future time, but I cannot give it a rating today.

Grimm:Once We Were Gods”, written by Alan DiFiore, directed by Steven DePaul (NBC) (GK Productions, Hazy Mills Productions, Universal TV)

This was just not very good. It felt like a cute concept had been worn out. The writers use all sorts of made up words, and half the characters get animal heads when they shake their own heads or stretch their necks. The effects look like unsophisticated use of very high-tech equipment.

“Fortunately” I had watched a good portion of an earlier season with my teenage daughters. I had an understanding of what many of the made up words meant, and even recognized most of the characters. However, we stopped watching it because we had been overloaded by stupid in the process, and this episode did not appear to have traveled very far back to the watchable side of the shark.

I basically disliked this. I gave it 3 stars (out of 10).

Orphan Black:By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”, ” written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)

Discovering Orphan Black has been discovering something great about TV. The show is complex, reasonably plausible, and wonderfully acted.

The filming ranges from hyper-realist to imaginative. This particular episode uses overexposure in one scene with four characters in it to set a mood that seamlessly integrates one characters coming down off drugs with a convoluted conversation about fear and love between a mother and her daughter. The special effects are understated and brilliant; this episode features a scene where the same actress plays four different people dancing together in the same small space.

The complexity works against voting for this particular episode. There is intricate backstory to almost every scene, and sometimes there are separate backstory to almost every major element in a single scene. The result to someone who has watched the previous episodes is delicious. The result to someone who has not might be confusing.

To get to the bottom of how confusing it might be I successfully invited a friend over to watch this episode (and others on the list) with me. They quickly picked up the major plot elements specific to this episode, but were very much aware of the fact that they were missing huge chunks of the complete story. Missing out on the backstory degraded the watching experience. So I’m going to take a star away from Orphan Black for this incredibly worthwhile aspect of the show which works against them in this particular instance.

Orphan Black scores 9 stars (out of 10).

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