Pop General

“Showtime’s series tend to hinge around their central player and frequently risk fizzling when that character runs out of yarn or when the audience fatigues of them…”

Been catching Homeland and The Leftovers on television, finished reading The Black Company: The Book of the North and completed watching the last episodes of The Wire as well as the sixth season of The League.

CarrieThis season of Homeland has been pretty good. It’s too early to say if I’m enjoying it more than the fourth season, but the writers took a bold risk in trying to divorce Carrie of the CIA, after the unexpected high of having the “good guys” effectively lose. I used to cheer for the CIA in the earlier seasons when its mission was more defensive. But as of late the agency feels too Machiavellian. There has been some shocking contrasts in how certain characters have remained true to form while others have become increasingly…

Villainous.

I don’t know whether this is just the plot du jour, or if Showtime is preparing for a final story arc and the series climax in the following season (maybe two.) Admittedly I hope for the latter, as Showtime has a tendency to drag on after the ecstasy of a great tale has worn off.

Like Breaking Bad, shows of this caliber should end with an exclamation point, kill their darlings and never look back.

But HBO’s The Leftovers has managed to enthrall me, and even overtake my excitement for Homeland in just two episodes (I intend to see the third tonight.) After some comparisons of how HBO and Showtime manage their television, I’ve come to realize that Showtimes tends to be very protagonist centered, while HBO breaks up their story among various characters. The LeftoversGame of Thrones, The Wire… HBO does a great job of never being too dependent on anyone cast member. But with Showtime, series like DexterUnited States of Tara, and Nurse Jackie tend to hinge around their central player and frequently risk fizzling when that character runs out of yarn or when the audience fatigues of them.

Meanwhile, The League has definitely ground down. In many ways, the show can be compared to Seinfeld; the plot tends to pick up themes early and circles around to connect them (often ironically) at the end, while the characters are deserving snobs for whom we get a schadenfreude kick from seeing punished. Unlike the show about nothing however, The League has begun to recycle its humor and isn’t really adding anything new to the formula. Sure, there were a few moments of gold in the sixth season, such as when Andre was psychologically tricked into “punishing himself” for cheating. But the completionist in me is glad the series is ending.

As if this all wasn’t enough of a mistake in the consumption of my spare time, I decided to begin another game of Shadowrun: Hong Kong.

It’s not like I don’t have enough to do as of late. Three drafts await completion as it is; a military sci-fi piece, a post-apocalyptic story and a unique historical fantasy piece that I’d been researching for a few months. There’s also a novella that will be due before the year’s end and several technical projects that need my attention.

But I’ve been pretty stressed. An hour set aside to finish anything is never enough. Sometimes people need to be reminded of what’s fun to remember why the labor is worth the effort.

Shadowrun4AI actually finished my first campaign about a month ago, with an Italian elf shaman by the name of Bianca “Luna” Panzavecchia. With an emphasis of conjuring over spirit summoning and a focus on pistols, Luna was a great work-horse character. Her conjuring aspects surprised me greatly, particularly the barrier spells which I used to powerful effect… even going so far as to cheese the final boss. However, I put my first replay aside while I waited for a few patches to reduce the sheer of bugs.

Manuel and I had been swapping some build ideas for new characters for a while. About a month ago I had a vision of a troll adept (think monk) because of a natural synergy for Strength, Body and Willpower, and an emphasis in barehanded fighting. I jokingly shook my fist at Manuel for running ahead to try my idea first, but I finally got around to trying the theory myself.

A little karma distribution later and Charlie Shen, better known as Mó Chuí (magic hammer) was born. Shen hits like a semi-truck and can soak a fair amount of damage too. Downside to most melee characters remains consistent though; he’s frequently out of cover and tends to soak up a lot of damage. 50 then 60 HP and good armor will go far towards keeping him alive, but it would be best to keep a few emergency health kits on hand.

One thing I have to respect about this title was the removal of… what we’ll call “paragon” dialogue. Basically, Mass Effect set a standard for characters where as you can be the ultimately goodie-two shoe or evil incarnate. Dragonfall offered dialogue choices which were much more “cool grey” in nature, but did give the player the option of being a total @#$hole whenever they felt like it. Hong Kong tends to be a little more mellow about that, though you can push buttons if you try hard enough. And that’s the road I’m taking Mó Chuí down.

The Marchly Happenings

Monday night, I brewed my first pitch of mead with my buddy Dan. I opted for a very basic recipe of just honey with a kolsch beer yeast. The effort went with only one hitch: I couldn’t find the stopper for my fermentation lock. Fortunately, Dan had a spare I borrowed. If you’re reading this, thanks Dan.

I was forewarned that to make it great, it’ll have to sit once bottled for about 6 to 12 months. If I do this again, I’m going to get a smaller (say 3 gallon) carboy and do some experimentation with various yeasts. A lot of sites and people insist that wine yeasts are the way to go. Perhaps next time.

While we were waiting for a few odds and ends, Dan and took to watching episodes of Firefly. Something tells me that I’m going to constantly get, “Do you watch Firefly?” often in response to my most recent short story. I’m certainly enjoying the themes of the show, but every once in a while they kind of settle into a Bones like sense of whimsy.

During the last episode I watched, Christina Hendricks of Drive and Mad Men guest starred as a village girl who tricks our Captain Mal (Nathan Fillion) into marrying him. Jayne (Adam Baldwin) is desiring of this girl where as the captain is not, such that Jayne attempts to barter with the captain: A high powered, customized rifle for the doe eyed village girl.

You got to admit that pictures like this made the show look like some WB50 teen drama.

You got to admit that pictures like this made the show look like some WB50 teen drama.

I’m sure that anyone with an anti-slavery sentiment would be glad to know that our dear captain decidedly turned down Jayne’s awful offer, as well as pushed the girl to be independent and null the marriage. The offer was in the spirit of comic relief: not so much in the offer itself (if it had, it would have been in very bad taste), but because the offer was given following a tense, potentially violent moment between the captain and Jayne, followed by what would otherwise have been a commercial break (thank you, Netflix). It also served to highlight a moral difference between Jayne and Captain Mal, which relatively made Captain Mal look like a high angel.

I’m not entirely familiar with Joss Whedon’s work outside of The Avengers, truth be told. But I was left wondering how often he flirts with disaster. Done well, it makes for great fiction. But passion can be as blinding as anger if not guided. Based on his interview with the NY Times involving a cut scene involving Captain America and healthcare, it seems Whedon has the gift of discipline and moderation, knowing exactly when and where to draw the line.

Speaking of which, my thoughts turn to another show and drawing a line. Homeland. Currently, work is underway for season 4, but just about anyone who has seen the last three seasons knows that they’re at a great stopping point. Almost all the story threads have been closed and season 4 would have to be a reboot of the series under the same name and same characters/actors.

When I look at Homeland, I feel as though there was no forward thinking beyond season 3. There weren’t many new characters introduced, and no threat beyond Tehran. At this point, we’re getting a whole new show with the same name and likely the same characters.

When they wrote it, did they worry that they might be cancelled this season? Quite possibly. United States of Tara received several nominations and rewards and was well loved by critics before ultimately being cancelled.

Odds are against Homeland being good after this season. We’ll see.