Cheeseburger Gothic

Under The Dome, some thinky

Posted July 12, 2013 into Telly by John Birmingham

Anybody been watching Under the Dome? I had been hoping to do a little amateur recapping, having enjoyed the book so much, but my experience of doing just one recap for Fairfax put me off that. Bloody things take way too much work to do for free. Still, having watched three episodes now, I reckon this series looks like the goods. You can never tell when you're watching an adaptation of da King's work; they can be great, they can be abysmal. And his direct involvement doesn't guarantee the project is going to go either way. (Yes television miniseries adaptation of The Shining, I'm looking at you).

Dome, however, is right up there with his best. The novel is definitely top five, partly because it allows him to do one of the things for which he is justifiably renowned – building a sandbox and getting down to some serious play. I think only Salem's Lot could rival Chester's Mill as one of his greatest standalone creations, a small world fully realized on the page. But King has calmed down as a writer, and as a man, over the years, and I think he does even better work in Chester's Mill than he did in ol' vampire town.

Does the TV series faithfully reproduce this? No. The story isn't as compressed and denatured as it would have been if squeezed into a feature film, but there are still important elements of the book missing from the screenplay. The novel is an allegory for the wretched state of the American body politic. The partisan affiliations of the main players are not just upfront but vital to the narrative. (As a side note, Murph can rest assured that even though King is an old-school fiery liberal, and Big Jim Rennie is a Republican villain of the darkest hue, the politics of the Dome are not that simplistic or ham-fisted. Dale 'Barbie' Barbara and putative hero of the story is something of a naïve liberal, while Julia Shumway, is the sort of common sense conservative who recalls the prosaic glories of Eisenhower).

None of this really appears in the TV series. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Different formats, different purposes. Big Jim is every bit as engaging a villain on the small screen as he was on the page. Tellingly, he's also more complex and even likable. Perhaps this is because filmed narratives are cooperative ventures and require more creative imput than the lone author, with all his attendant biases and blind spots. There have been a number of times so far in the series where Big Jim has stepped up and done exactly the right thing at precisely the right moment. And yet he is very obviously A Bad Man.

Barbie too seems more complex, but in a different way. King is a big fan of Lee Child's Jack Reacher series and you can see him paying homage to Child's character while writing Barbie. They're not mirror images of each other, but there are enough points of contact to hear the echo of Reacher's story in Barbie's. Former soldiers, mystery men, travelers, trouble. Having laid down the foundations of character, however, King took Dale Barbara off in a very different direction. The TV producers then took the wheel and appeared to give it another turn. The Barbie of this series is a much more mysterious, conflicted and possibly compromised man than the un-alloyed hero of the books. I still can't figure out what his story is, and I'm beginning to doubt that it will play out the same way it did on the page.

One reason for that is the way the Dome – which has been rendered with some lovely special effects work, by the way – appears to have cut the town off completely here. I won't give away any spoilers other than to say that communication through the Dome is easier in the book and this has significant narrative consequences. It also features prominently in the development of Barbie's character and revelations about his past.

It would probably be a useful experience for a young writer, especially a young screenwriter, to examine the ways in which the book and film versions of this story diverge, and to ask why. What purpose is served by, for instance, linking Dale Barbara to Julia Shumway through the death of her husband; the murder of her husband, really, by Barbie. The short answer is obvious. It creates tension as we wait for Shumway to uncover the connection, especially as she grows closer to Barbie. What I don't know, is what the producers and screenwriters are going to do with it. Maybe they'll circle back to Barbie's back story in the novel. I can almost imagine a way of doing that, but not without giving away massive spoilers for the next couple of episodes or anybody who hasn't read the book.

The other question I'll look forward to seeing resolved over the next couple of months is whether the producers have the cast iron nuts to kill everybody who needs killing in the way that King did. If you think you lost a bunch of your favorites during the Red Wedding and you really didn't cope, you might want to stop watching now.

43 Responses to ‘Under The Dome, some thinky’

Randall Flagg reckons...

Posted July 12, 2013

Honest question: what was a good adaptation of King's books? All the ones I've seen have been pretty woeful. I was so looking forward to The Stand and Desperation, and then: ugh.

w from brisbane is gonna tell you...

Posted July 12, 2013

I thought The Dead Zone was very enjoyable.
Directed by David Cronenberg, Starring Christopher Walken.

Carrie is well-regarded, though not my cup of tea.

Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile are very good.

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted July 12, 2013

I quite liked the Langoliers, and Shawshank was a pretty good, if mawkish, adaptation.

microbe74 would have you know...

Posted July 12, 2013

I liked Christine as a teen, don't know if it would stand up twenty years later.

Agree re The Green Mile and Shawshank Redemption. Shawshank is right up there as one of my all time favourites. Recently saw The Mist and rate that too.

SZF reckons...

Posted July 12, 2013

The Mist was a pleasant surprise for me, since so many of King's supernatural page-to-screen outings get "hobbled" Annie Wilkes' style by poor production, scripts, effects, or all three.

Besides that, the usual: Shawshank, Stand By Me, Misery. Also the "Battleground" short from Nightmares and Dreamscapes for William Hurt's no dialogue performance.

Rob reckons...

Posted July 12, 2013

definately shawshank, and maximum overdrive haha. 'If you want something done right you got to do it yourself' check out the trailer for the wisdom of Stephen King discussing his greatest film.

Respond to this thread

Sally Browne swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 12, 2013

We were having a bit of a giggle at this last night. I enjoyed it, but think I like the idea more than the execution. It seemed a bit ham-fisted. It felt very 1994. I also thought it was funny how they got budget Bruce Willis and budget Jeff Bridges in a couple of the main roles. Perhaps your experience was enriched by the book, which I haven't read. Maybe I'll persevere, or follow your synopsis. : )

Respond to this comment

Bucko asserts...

Posted July 12, 2013

Have not read the book (yet, just finished Kings Dark Tower series) but understand it all goes down over the course of 7 days (or less). Kinda wish this was a mini-series (6-8 episodes) instead of them maybe trying for a new series if this one is successful.

Otherwise, great show very well made. Good to see that breaking bad guy in there and Julia Shumway is very easy on the eyes. Love that left of centre sci fi TV is coming back after a few years off the box. For another amazing Sci Fi show, check out Orphan Black.

Also, props to Channel 10 for getting onto air roughly as quick as I could download it!

Respond to this comment

Rob ducks in to say...

Posted July 12, 2013

I just find the acting and photography a bit (well quite alot) b grade. So it has put me off, which is strange because I totally love Maximum Overdrive, King's cocaine hazed directing debut. But then it had Emilo Estevez in it, and I thought he was great in Repo Man.

If it was shot like Games of Thrones it would probably have really grabbed me. But then theres crap like the Tommyknockers which was made in New Zeland and cast with Kiwis doing weak american accents (mid pacific meets New England apparently) but i got to meet Traci Lords in a bar in Auckland so its not all bad.

Respond to this comment

Barnesm ducks in to say...

Posted July 12, 2013

Haven't started watching it yet, gonna wait until all the first season is loaded on the DVR and bing view.

Respond to this comment

trib swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 12, 2013

Enjoying it thus far. Not having read the book (it's on my goddamn Kindle, okay!?), I've no preconceptions. Thus far, Big Jim and Junior both need a solid cockpunching, Junior especially (that kid is chewing scenery worse than Hayden Christensen in the Star Wars prequels).

I'm liking Julia, if only because I've a shocking weakness for redheads.

When does dopey little brother realise big sister is MIA?

The rest, so far, are interesting enough to keep watching.

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 12, 2013

Yeah, Junior is another slight departure from the book, not so much in storlyine as characterisation.

Respond to this thread

Kirsty reckons...

Posted July 12, 2013

I'm watching and will continue to, but I'm perplexed by a couple of the characters' motivations. The cop, Paul, who just lost it, seemingly out of the blue, annoyed me no end. And Junior induces flashbacks of Z for Zachariah. I guess he's representative. Anyway, thanks for your insights.

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted July 12, 2013

Yeah, I found the cop's breakdown a bit foreshortened. Should have take a few more eps.

Respond to this thread

Blarkon has opinions thus...

Posted July 12, 2013

It looks like a show that has a single season in it. Stretching it out longer than that may kill it.

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted July 12, 2013

Oh for sure. It really only needs 12 eps.

Respond to this thread

Dave W reckons...

Posted July 12, 2013

I stopped watching King adaptations after the Stand miniseries. Too much heartache at seeing an imperfect representation on the screen when I'd perfectually visualised from his writing.

It's like that damned falafel movie. Whyyyyy? Why? (Apart from the dumptruck full of money that they drove up to your door)

I am interested at your point that the characters are less partisan and perhaps more human than in the book, due to the collaborative nature of the filmed narrative (and they have to sell that narrative to more risk averse consumers- tv companies). But is this enough to make me want to watch?- unfortunately not. I've been hurt before, you see.

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted July 12, 2013

Actually, there is an alternative explanation. More partisan characters might be less commerically acceptable.

Dave W would have you know...

Posted July 12, 2013

I think that's what I meant- the risk averse consumers being the tv companies. They're the ones handing over lots of money and hoping that the show will appeal to a broad swathe of the populace.

And I actually do like the falafel movie, just not as much as the book.

Respond to this thread

Craig HB reckons...

Posted July 12, 2013

I'm enjoying it, much as you said - that there's been some woeful King adaptations.

Also loved the book for the same points you touched on in its similarities to 'Salem's (another awful miniseries).

I'm good with the conflations and departures from the book so far, but the only thing that's bugging me is why are they not more shocked about the fact there's a bloody great big dome over their town? They seem a bit nonplussed about the whole thing.

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted July 12, 2013

Two awful miniseries, actually. Pretty sure there was a remake of of the Lot

Barnesm swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 12, 2013

There was a 1979 TV miniseries,

a 1987 TV movie Return to Salem's Lot;(which from the synopis sounds dreadfull -Joe Weber is an anthropologist who takes his son on a trip to the New England town of Salem's Lot unaware that it is populated by vampires. When the inhabitants reveal their secret, they ask Joe to write a bible for them) and

a 2004 TV series starring Rob Lowe

Respond to this thread

Marian Dalton ducks in to say...

Posted July 12, 2013

I'm a huge King fan (no relation to Annie Wilkes, honest), and I'm kinda disappointed in Dome so far. It seems really uneven - for example, Junior's craziness is well done, if completely inexplicable, but Julia is weak, weak, weak.

As far as good adaptations of King's work go, I'd put The Mist and Misery at the top. And, of course, the incomparable Green Mile.

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 12, 2013

Julia's weak? You really think so? Seems kind of ballsy to me.

Trowzers asserts...

Posted July 12, 2013

Man, that's two recommendations for The Mist. It's my all-time favourite King short story - so given the past record of King adaptations I'd been avoiding it. I guess maybe I will risk it.

I haven't read any King since about Gerald's Game (before that era I'd been a mad-keen fan, and I still read The Stand again every time I get a really bad flu), so I've missed his apparent return to form. I just watched the last two eps of The Dome though and it seems like a lot of fun, in a cheesy mini-series kinda way. Still, I'm enjoying it, so any quibbles are irrelevant.

Jayanthi's Atomic Cat asserts...

Posted July 17, 2013
I kinda get where Marian's coming from. Julia def has balls, but she also seems to make decisions/take action with very little sense of self-preservation. Not the no-fear kind, rather the poorly thought through kind. I find that a bit frustrating in her.

Respond to this thread

Joy mutters...

Posted July 12, 2013

I haven't read the book, but I am a big King fan. I'm still watching The Dome and will continue to watch in hopes that it will trigger an obsession like 'Lost' did for me. Junior is annoying but at least he's easy on the eyes :)

Respond to this comment

Dick reckons...

Posted July 12, 2013

We started watching it (rarely get to see much of anything, to busy chasing my tail), then son (14 yo) reckoned it was weak and wouldn't watch it any more.

Respond to this comment

JG swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 12, 2013

One book I didn't sell to Bent Books. You'll be pleased to know I haven't sold any of your books either, JB. Loved King's Under The Dome, and the new TV series is great.

Respond to this comment

Sally mumbles...

Posted July 12, 2013

I'm enjoying it. I got 200 pages into the book and gave up - from memory I just wasn't in the mood at the time. The series has motivated me to try again (in fact I just searched the house for my copy).

Respond to this comment

Werbwolf asserts...

Posted July 12, 2013

Had the book in mind for a long time, as I really liked the premise, but I never got myself to really get it. I´ve seen the first episode and now I am on page 700. I like both, book and show, but both in different ways. The book has a fantastic way of making yourself feel like you are inside the dome, the short teasers of things to come make you feel really miserable as you read it.

The show has very interesting differences to the book, the characters, but of course the whole idea that not even sound or radio can penetrate it. Would it be possible to build a fibre-optic device to get acces to the internet? Who knows. I am looking forward for the rest :)

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted July 13, 2013

Yeah, remind me, didnt they communicate using mobile phones in the book. And I think TV and radio still worked too.

Jayanthi's Atomic Cat has opinions thus...

Posted July 14, 2013
My immediate thought in response is how much that would change everything story-wise. Not just inside the Dome, but outside, too. I am imagining that you could end up with celebrity status for some insiders, and you'd have all these science boffins getting the nerdy kids to build fancy testing equipment out of paperclips and the electronic circuits from your washing machine to help them do tests from the inside. The biggest difference would haveto be in the psychology of the people inside, i would think. PS have not read book yet.

Respond to this thread

she_jedi reckons...

Posted July 13, 2013

Did anyone see Kingdom Hospital? It was an adaption of a Danish show that King wrote direct for TV. Quirky and weird but super enjoyable I thought.

John Birmingham ducks in to say...

Posted July 13, 2013

It looked just too fucking weird for me.

Rob has opinions thus...

Posted July 15, 2013

'It looked just too fucking weird for me' from a guy who has nuked Iran and given Europe a taste of burnt new world into their post modern lungs thats a big call.

Respond to this thread

Jayanthi's Atomic Cat has opinions thus...

Posted July 14, 2013
Enjoyable, yes. Gripping? No. I will keep watching, but it sounds like the interest will be in comparing the book to the series...thanks for the tip, Burgerites. 'Hannibal' has put a lot of other series in the shade for me but then I haven't got to GoT yet.


If like me you're new to the series and haven't read the book, who do you reckon is up for the chop? I confess to spending time thinking of ways i would like Junior to die, but I do worry about Julia- she has 'curiosity killed the cat' written all over her. It'll be interesting to see if they're ballsy enough to kill off some audience favourites.

Respond to this comment

Mayhem would have you know...

Posted July 15, 2013

I haven't read the book, or indeed much of King's stuff at all. Think I was scared off his stuff when I read a couple as a teen. Now might be a good time to give his work another go.

As for the series, I'm intrigued by some characters, utterly repelled by others, and even mourning one or two. I'm enjoying it so far.

P.S. JB is there a way to "keep me logged in", so I don't have to go back to your Bunny's verification email every time I want to comment? (Smartest thing I ever did was not deleting that email, though I usually can't even remember which email address I'm using :/

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 15, 2013

I'm gonna have a talk to dan about persistent login cos it drives me nuts too.

Respond to this thread

sekret sekret mutters...

Posted July 16, 2013
Yes I'm watching The Dome as well. Great concept. The idea of it is what captures the audience ,I suspect. Very clever.
I agree that it really needs to be twelve eps or it will lose its punch..Then again lots of series could learn from the Fawlty Towers principle

Respond to this comment

el barto mumbles...

Posted July 16, 2013
I like the bit in the dome when that working class family get out via the sinkhole their backyard, then they raise money by doing a motorcycle stunt and go to Alaska for a while and come back and save the town.

Respond to this comment

Jayanthi's Atomic Cat swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 17, 2013
Watched the episode tonight, getting interesting but i sure hope those cast-iron balls arrive soon.

Respond to this comment

Respond to this comment

Respond to 'Under The Dome, some thinky'

Falling Skies returns

Posted June 4, 2013 into Telly by John Birmingham

I binge watched the last half of the previous season and felt it was finally coming together as a series. The terrible soap opera is still soapy. Some of the subplots should never have surfaced. And occasionally the writing is clunky as all get out. But the characters seem to working off each other much better and the 'rebel skitter' storyline turns out to be somewhat less awful than it threatened to be. Clip's from the S3 premiere. Nice an' bloody.

I see Revolution is also coming back, but most of S2 remains in my stack o' shame, waiting for a rainy day.

4 Responses to ‘Falling Skies returns’

Murphy mumbles...

Posted June 4, 2013

Revolution made a Season 2?

Really?

I gotta admit that I'm fairly lukewarm about Falling Skies as well. It is like A Walking Dead wannabe or something. And the military historian without a stitch of service teaching at the university level? I mean, where did they find that guy? Such creatures do not exist in American Academia anymore. They've all been turned into sappy social historians who spend their time going on about the lives of Pissboys, fishmongers and night soil collectors.

Respects,

Murph

On the Outer Marches

Brother PorkChop mumbles...

Posted June 4, 2013

Pissboy!! History of the World Part 1?

Respond to this thread

ChrisB mumbles...

Posted June 6, 2013

Admit it: We're all just killing time until a smart network or studio picks up the AoT books and makes it a damn fine mini-series.

NBlob would have you know...

Posted February 9, 2015
I concur and would like to subscribe to your omelette.

Respond to this thread

Respond to 'Falling Skies returns'

Redshirt stats

Posted May 24, 2013 into Telly by John Birmingham

An intriguing concondrum arose this morning out of Amazon's Kindle Worlds program. @lostatlunch asked me on twitter "if you red-shirt the original author in an alt-timeline fanfic, will there be a paradox?"

@PeterWJHarrigan didn't so much answer that question as another, entirely irrelevent, but just as fascinating, with a link to this blog entry where he crunched the numbers on the mortality rate amongst various classes of crew member on Star Trek, coming up with all sort of Bayesian shennanigans:

Based on an analysis of casualties that considers the overall total number of personnel in each color of uniform, wearing a redshirt may not be the automatic death sentence that it is popularly considered to be. On the other hand, 18 of the redshirt casualties were security personnel out of a total population of 90; 20% of the security department were casualties. Although wearing a redshirt may not of itself be particularly hazardous, personnel in a redshirt who are members of the security department should expect to pay a high premium on their life insurance.

I dunno, the red skivvy still looks kinda iffy to me.


I'm afraid I failed to pass a single maths exam after about grade eight in high school, but that pie chart speaks loudly to me and it's saying blue is definitely my colour.

14 Responses to ‘Redshirt stats’

Barnesm mumbles...

Posted May 24, 2013

The pie chart (first used to display data by Florence Nightingale, though if I dig hard enough probably find a Mary Seacole esque character did it first) above is clear, the basyian analysis is even more exciting for a math geek like me. For more excitment about this tool read 'The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bayes' Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy" I would have provided a link but the linky tool above isn't working.

Respond to this comment

Shifty Tourist swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 24, 2013

And sadly, so many of those deaths could have been avoided if Starfleet had just adoped some basic OH&S measures.

In particular some circuit breakers behind the bridge equipment might have helped.

Respond to this comment

insomniac is gonna tell you...

Posted May 24, 2013

if 24 out of say 100 red shirts die, 9 out of 15 gold shirts die and 7 out of 8 blue shirts die, then i'd rather not be a blue shirt. The numbers are meaningless by themselves. i've provided one possible interpretation. there are an infinite number of interpretations for the figures provided. different maths is required.

Respond to this comment

Brother PorkChop mumbles...

Posted May 24, 2013

I'm with INSOMNIAC - too little data to compute.

Respond to this comment

Barnesm mutters...

Posted May 24, 2013

The full analysis is provided over at the online journal significance which Brimo has provided a link in the story above. Its double cream for math nerds.

insomniac ducks in to say...

Posted May 24, 2013

upon further reading i concede

Respond to this thread

Quokka swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 24, 2013

Genius. Can't wait for the NRA to see that pie and conclude every school and university student in the US of A should be compelled to wear that colour.

Respond to this comment

Bangar is gonna tell you...

Posted May 24, 2013

I'd rather a shirt with a contract on it for the series ... I still may die bit I'd be back by the end of the episode ;)

Respond to this comment

BobGrrl would have you know...

Posted May 24, 2013

It's funny the psychological effect putting a character in a red shirt can have.

In the latest Star Trek film they put one of the main crew members into a red shirt (instead of their usual gold) and I was practically convinced they'd end up dead because of it. Fortunately they didn't, but I do wonder whether it was done intentionally to make people think it would happen.

Respond to this comment

Respond to this comment

tqft swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 24, 2013

I will any colour shirt if it gets me aboard a starship even if I end up dead quite quickly. Even a purple paisley shirt.

Respond to this comment

Conspiracy Cat ducks in to say...

Posted May 24, 2013

Aaaah, and tqft has answered the question. The 'unknown' coloured skivvy IS known. It's purple. Wake up, Jeff!

Respond to this comment

Spleen Vent asserts...

Posted May 30, 2013

They're security!!!! They're front line!!!! It's like saying "Oh gee, all those guys that hit the beach first on D-Day had a lot of casualties?!?!!?". It's what they do!!!!

"Holy freakin' warp factors, Spock, there's a dozen Klingons just transorted into the engine room!!!!"

"Shall I get security in there, Jim?"

"Nah, the union's breaking my balls about casualty rates for red shirts. Let the engineers get rid of them. They did combat training in the Academy too, and Scotty's pretty handy with a wrench. Not like it's a Kobayashi Maru scenario involved here."

"Um, Jim, the engineers wear red too currently".

"Gah!!! Well send in the medical team then. Bones has been geting on my nerves recently".

(Spock turns comm on) "Dr McCoy to engine room to remove Klingons please."

(staticy reply over comms) "I'm a doctor not a redshirt, Jim, goddamnit!!!"

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted May 30, 2013

Funniest down stream comment ever.

Respond to this thread

Respond to 'Redshirt stats'

When you recap the Game of Thrones you win, or you die

Posted May 22, 2013 into Telly by John Birmingham

Roland Barthes was a web 2.0 guy before the web was even a Version 1 thing. Before color TV was even a thing. Roland Barthes was a sneaky French philosopher (is there another kind?) who got away with cutting and pasting his thoughts into discontinuous brain farts, and getting his “readers [to] work as active creators of a text”. He crowd sourced the meaning of his work.

Roland Barthes was also the guy who gave us, by way of Clive James, the modern phenomenon of the TV recap; those long and winding water cooler recapitulations of whatever happened last night on Mad Men, Masterchef, The Walking Dead or, God help us, Embarrassing Bodies.

Sometimes mere regurgitation, but sometimes soaring to heights from which the recap writer can seriously look down on the hacks and script-spittles who stole 48 minutes of your life, the recap has crept into the media landscape and become the bait-of-choice for online media looking to draw traffic to their advertisers’ wares.

There are some recappers (recaptivists? recaptors?) who are so good they achieve a small measure of renown – or something akin to it, a bankable level of attention from the attention-deficit-generation; Ben Pobjie’s masterful Masterchef recaps, for instance, which managed to remind us twelve hours later of all the faff and pointlessness we’d already forgotten, while simultaneously leaching the stage managed shenanigans of any residual dignity they might have maintained. (No much, admittedly)

So now the appearance of a TV series with a deeply invested global audience signals the arrival in tandem of another round of recaps. At the moment it’s all about Game of Thrones.

Contemplates Foxtel crushing alternate distribution channels.

Is disappoint.

How do we get from Barthes to Baratheon? Well, in 1957 he published Mythologies, which The New York Times described as “the most reliable and user-friendly source of Barthes’s special variety of fun — the bouillon cube, if you will, of his critical flavour.” In Mythologies Barthes laid the ground for the coming of a myriad postgraduate degrees in pop culture studies. PhDs in the Homer of Springfield, rather than the Homer of Achilles.

Mythologies was, in the truest, laziest style of Rolly, a lucky dip, a collection of scribbles from a literary journal and an attempt to unpack, as we say now, the Cambrian explosion of popular culture after World War Two. Barthes was high-concept lowbrow decades before the first Lad mag was published. He studied “the rise to omnipresence of a hypercommodified cluster of media (magazines, film, radio, television) that was shaping everyone’s lives on the deepest possible level, like a new form of psychological gravity.”

What the fuck does that even mean? Lets ask the New York Times.

In his modest (and non-Newtonian) way, Barthes set out to be mass culture’s Newton: to identify the laws of its behavior, test its stresses, reveal the invisible boundaries of its influence.

Barthes’s basic idea (although with Barthes it’s always dangerous to reduce things to a basic idea) was that the operation of mass culture is analogous to mythology. He argued that the cultural work previously done by gods and epic sagas — teaching citizens the values of their society, providing a common language — was now being done by film stars and laundry-detergent commercials.

In that way, he wasn’t a million miles removed from Clive James much more tightly focused TV columns of the 1970s. James very much saw himself as an intellectual, and more importantly as a poet, who could discern within the surface banalities of broadcast TV, the meaning of much deeper shifts and developments in the society which produced them. He might have been viciously snarky about popular entertainment, but that didn’t stop him taking it seriously as an aesthetic form.

Where the second half of the Twentieth Century was all about an explosion of mass culture, the coming of the internet has enabled its mass critique the “dissection of everything, no matter how trivial”. (In Pobjie’s Masterchef recaps, for instance, even the commercial breaks get a shakedown, these saleable interstices raised to the same level of significance as the primary text, to get a little Barthesian on y’all.)

Sam Anderson, in the Times:

This happens everywhere now, often in real time. And this critical analysis is often as vital and interesting and consumable as the culture it discusses. Consider, for instance, the way the TV recap has evolved into a nearly independent creative form. So the critical analysis of pop culture has itself become a kind of pop culture. We seem to be approaching some kind of singularity — a collapse of creativity and criticism into one.

It is possible to follow a certain style of TV show without ever tuning in. The twitter feed of Q and A, for example, is every week more engaging than the show that gives it birth. (Although that doesn’t stop me muting it). It is just as possible to enjoy the post mortem critique of narrative television, without ever having seen the originating broadcast. So comprehensive is the modern recap, it obviates the need to watch the show it is recapping.

The joy, the jouissance a blend of “surprise, adventure and pleasure” to borrow from Barthes, is to relive the experience however. To enjoy the story and then have it retold for our childlike enjoyment. As much fun as it might be to watch, the pleasures of recalling it with a likeminded soul are even greater. This holds for both good and bad TV. Possibly even more so for bad. Herein lies the appeal of the recap not so much to us, the readers, but to the media which provides them. When the choice of media is so great as to paralyze us, we retreat to what we already know. And what we know to be held dear by everyone else.

At the moment that means Game of Thrones. A short while ago it meant The Walking Dead, and very soon it will be S.H.I.E.L.D. But for now, our small screen dreams flicker with images of Westeros. I don’t know how many individual recaps the show has inspired, but a Google search for them returns over sixty-four million hits. Most significant media organizations boast of at least one. The best may be Wired.com’s double header written by Laura Hudson and Erik Henriksen.

More than just a riff or retelling, Wired provides a comprehensive meta analysis of both the just-aired ep and the many ways in which it either tracked or diverged from the book. Being Wired, of course, they cannot resist a little techno wizardry, and thus spoilers are blacked out behind the sort of thick, black lines which nowadays characterize 90% of all government documents sought under FOI. Wired, however, lets you removed the redaction with a mouse click.

Hudson and Henrikson – two very Westerosi names don’t you think – break down seemingly every minute broadcast and provide the sort of micro- and meta-analysis that can only be done online, where word length counts for nothing. They even go back and forth to tweak or dispute each others findings. It is the best recap I’ve seen of Thrones.

The second best? Disagree if you will, and you probably will, but the runner up – When you recap the Game of Thrones you win, or you die – is promptly written and published within a few hours of airing every week right here in Brisneyland, by BrisbaneTimes’ Natalie Bochenski, aka @girlclumsy on the twitterz and here at the Burger.

Eschewing the postgraduate faffage of Wired, GC goes for the larfs, while retaining an understanding of what makes great theatre. She avoids the witless recounting of this happened and then that happened, often skipping thematically through the doin’s and a-goings on. She rewards attention payers with in-jokes like “Kate Middleton” and comfortably changes voice whenever the mood or necessity takes her.

Meanwhile Cersei? Bitch be colder than tiles in winter, mmm-hmmm. Cutting Slow Lorus off like that just when he’s trying to be nice.

The trap for recappers is to simply recap. They are, after all, every one of them telling the exact same story. The Boing Boing recap sometimes falls into this hole, reading almost like a high school English student’s breathless but ultimately repetitive and unoriginal report to the class on What I Watched Last Night.

The other trap is timeliness. With so many of these things appearing within hours of the screening time (some of them before the two hour delay between the US and Australian release) there is little point in coming late to the show, so to speak. Again, a Boing Boing fail, but also, surprisingly a problem with the Flavorwire recap. For a site which lives and dies by spitting up prechewed media bites, this is sort of unforgivable. (Although, when the Flavorwire recap does go live, it often suffers from the same weaknesses of mere restatement that dog Boing Boing).

It used to be the case that most broadsheet papers, and many magazines retained the services of a dedicated TV reviewer, again thanks to the example of James and Barthes, but with the business model of the old press under existential threat they are passing from the world. The recap, usually written by enthusiasts rather than specialists is coming to replace them. In a way, they have not so much evolved from Barthes as away from him. He was an outsider who, like James, treated mass cultural as subject worthy of serious critique, but unlike James he had no love of the mass audience. Now, with the recap, and importantly the comment thread and social media ‘shares’ it is designed to ignite, the audience is the analysis.

14 Responses to ‘When you recap the Game of Thrones you win, or you die’

Barnesm has opinions thus...

Posted May 22, 2013

Great recap on recaps JB my only dispute is I woudl say girlclumsy's stuff is equal with Laura Hudson and Erik Henriksen's recaps.

I would ahve bet $10 you wouldn't be able to work Barthes, into a game of thrones round up, adn I'd have lost.

I admit to reading and posting on these Game of Thrones recaps but for season 3 I haven't yet watched an episode, perferring to save them on my Foxtel IQ until all the season has aired and then being able to watch them one after another.

I am probably in the minority that hearing what happens doesn't spoil but rather enhances the enjoyment of watching. Also I haev read all the books up to Danes with Dragons. Not bothering to read the already released chapters. I'd rather wait until the books out.

This even transaltes into books now, tending not to begin reading a trilogy until all the books are out. The only exception at the moment is with James S.A. Corey's Expanse series.

Respond to this comment

w from brisbane asserts...

Posted May 22, 2013

I think of Barthes when I accidentally watch some MasterChef or hear a foodie self-basting with their delight at their cosmopolitan recipe choice.
There is a lot of new bourgeois mythology going on here.
No doubt, it partly explains the Australian MasterChef's surprisingly large following in India.

I have been greatly enjoying Natalie B's Brisbane Times recaps, though I am only a patchy watcher of the show.

Respond to this comment

insomniac asserts...

Posted May 22, 2013

Krystyll has come to see Dr Christian with a problem. She and her boyfriend Jaxxsyn have been ...

Respond to this comment

Simon Bedak would have you know...

Posted May 22, 2013

I've heard of GirlClumsy, but I've never heard of this Games of Throne thing

Respond to this comment

Duce has opinions thus...

Posted May 22, 2013

I like the Onion AV club recaps - they do two, one for those who have read the books, one for those who haven't. They're good reading. On a trashier level, happyplace.com do a game of thrones recap...if game of thrones took place on facebook. It's fantastic.

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 22, 2013

I am already rushing over to read it!

Respond to this thread

Mothy ducks in to say...

Posted May 22, 2013

There we go, was wondering how long before someone referenced Happyplace

http://www.happyplace.com/topic/got-recap-season-3/newest

Great, though often failing in the timlieness stakes.

Respond to this comment

Sweet Jane Says is gonna tell you...

Posted May 22, 2013

Why recap? That's why we have Wikipedia.

I like the new look of the place.

J.

Respond to this comment

Crushed Ants swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 22, 2013

I confess to harassing GC on the twitters to recap, especially season 2, when she was writing Raven On sporadically on her blog (even then, the BEST). And now, couldn't be happier that she has a bigger audience.

The Facebook mash up on funny or die is great, and if your up for a bit of in-depth, The Atlantic has a three-way round table discussion that's pretty good, with a mix of GoT book readers, and first time to GoT thru the TV series writers.

And for a piss-funny video recap (once with Theon- yep THE Theon!), get thee to Funny or Die and watch "Gay of Thrones". You're welcome!

Shell swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 22, 2013

Ah, typing on the phone again. Hadith - not a bad new word methinks. Should read 'had the' of course but I know you've made allowances already. C ya.

Shell reckons...

Posted May 22, 2013

'Peek'. It was a peak though.

Respond to this thread

Shell swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 22, 2013

When Jabe asks for some lovin', Jabe gets some lovin'. Am studying US literature right now, and I mean right now so between that and other things am doing haven't Hadith time lately for watching the latest 'in thing' on the rectangle in the corner. Having said that bought myself a copy of GoT recently. Since Jabe recommended knew it would be at least bearable. Sat down to take a peak. Four hours later, assignment due still on table beside me, re-entered the fake world refreshed and inspired. GoT? Yeah, like it much. Criticism of books I love leaves me cold honestly. But that's just me I guess.

Respond to this comment

LenniMack is gonna tell you...

Posted May 22, 2013

Guilty: Barthenised in Post-Grad. Death of the Author did my head in. Still convinced there is a semiotic resonance (or bad joke) arising from his (actual) death by laundry van... Maybe just a revenge fantasy come true.

Respond to this comment

MadMaximun puts forth...

Posted May 22, 2013

Loves me some GoT recaps, what else are you supposed to do at work all day?!

Best one I found recently: http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/3502784afc/gay-of-thrones-game-of-thrones-ep-8-recap?playlist=featured_videos

Also loving the Facebook one, thanks for the tip peoples!

Respond to this comment

Respond to 'When you recap the Game of Thrones you win, or you die'

Defiance (Updated with freebie)

Posted May 20, 2013 into Telly by John Birmingham

Took a few weeks, but I finally got around to watching the pilot episode of Defiance on the weekend. I think we're about three eps into the series now, and the critical reaction on the geek blogs seems fair to middling, with a chance of improvement. There are some pretty tired old story ideas getting tricked up for one more turn around the field. I couldn't believe they were going to go with the whole Romeo and Juliet subplot, but props to them, they did, without a sense of irony or shame. Nolan, the good-looking loner who lives by his own rules (and his weapons, and his awesome martial arts skills) is saved from primetime cliché by a couple of less than admirable personality traits. And it was great to see Julie Benz on screen, still looking superhot and stealing every scene she's in. She doesn't seem to have aged a day since playing Darla on Buffy and Angel.

Joel Naoum, my publisher over at Mometum, tweeted this morning that he found Benz hot, but baffling as a casting choice. "Hard to buy her as mayor. Her youthfulness = gravitas deficiency"

I retorted that it's established very early she feels herself inadequate in the mayor's role, especially given the seniority of her predecessor. Joel, paid that, but said, "Yes, but I feel like we’re not supposed to agree with her."

Still, she's superhot, so shut up.

The storyline? I'm still figuring it out. They avoided the temptation to do an info dump in the first five minutes, leaving viewers to work a few things out for themselves. Some are obvious. The planet's gone to hell since it was invaded. Some less so. I couldn't work out why there were so many different alien races squabbling over the spoils and why they don't necessarily get on. But that will undoubtedly be explained in the next couple of installments.

Or possibly it's already been explained if you've been playing the third person MMO of the same name. The TV shows and game producers are attempting to do something a bit special by developing both the show and a game in parallel. All of the odds are stacked against them, but I haven't heard much of Defiance as a shooter, and I do imagine that the story world's developed much more fully there.

Rockne S O'Bannon, the Defiance show runner, is an alumnus of Farscape, a widely unwatched and even more underrated SyFy channel classic. (They used to shoot it here in Australia, when the dollar was known as the Pacific peso, making production costs much cheaper. I remember watching them film an episode on Bondi Beach when I lived there). The art direction on that show was particularly strong and O'Bannon has brought the same eye to this show. The CGI works really hard, but it works really well to create the impression of a living, chaotic, highly devolved city at the end of the world. It's also amazing what you can do with shipping crates and plastic wrap. The alien races are well realized, and although some of the human characters feel a bit two-dimensional, at least in the supporting cast, the leads are all very strong actors. Benz is probably the standout, which isn't surprising given the strength of her performance under Joss Whedon's direction.

The action scenes ran a nice gamut from intensely personal and muscular combat up to a well staged set piece battle that didn't skimp on the special effects right at the end. If the producers can build on the pilot, there could be a lot to look forward to with this series. I already like it a lot more than Falling Skies, although to be fair I thought that alien invasion series picked up a lot towards the end of the second season.

For anyone interested in the story world, Mark Clarkson very helpfully pointed me towards a freebie in the Kindle store.

18 Responses to ‘Defiance (Updated with freebie)’

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted May 20, 2013

Scuse my stoopid fat fingers. Had a few mishaps with pics for this story and Blarkon's comment got deleted.

Here tis:

Apparently the MMO developer is already laying off staff.

The SF series getting a lot of press at the moment (which I haven't seen - but seems to be getting a lot of people talking in forums) is Orphan Black

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=do_BCA-vR9E

Bunyip has opinions thus...

Posted May 20, 2013

That looks great! I'd say more, but hey, why spoil the punch of the trailer.

Lead me to this though, dead cops protecting the living. Looks the derp, with big guns and beer and pretzel characters.

Respond to this thread

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 21, 2013

My son is following it and says it has potential to become something special. I liked the first half of the pilot (I enjoy the mystery of what the hell happened ti the earth;I enjoyed the guy drawing out the sullen alien girl with Country Western; I liked the moral ambiguity of the hero) but I began to tire of the story when I realized I've seen and read this a hundred times before. I began to detest the aliens when it became apparent that they were exactly like humans with slightly different physical characteristics, different languages and different customs. The white haired aliens who are are comfortable with nudity and enjoy saunas remind me of Swedish people I've met. And the big eyed aliens wearing Nazi helmets, riding motorcycles and preying on those on the road reminded me of, well, humans in every post apocalyptic movie from the Road Warrior to the Book of Eli. How fucking original.

But my son is often right about these things, so I attempted to watch the first show after the pilot. I watched about 15 minutes and, although I found the near naked pretty lady a fine addition to a basic cable show, I got distracted by something else and haven't been back to the episode.

Maybe it is a young/old issue: my son likes it and is willing to give it a chance; I really don't want to waste any of the time I have left on this planet, and, thus far, Defiance has been a waste of my time.

John Birmingham has opinions thus...

Posted May 21, 2013

"but I began to tire of the story when I realized I've seen and read this a hundred times before"

That was the critique most often levelled in the first responses. Too many cliches. I've only watched the pilot, and you're right. It is comfortable tropeville. The aliens don't seem especially alien, except maybe for the killbots you missed at the end.

But as I understand it, the story picks up.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan reckons...

Posted May 21, 2013

I loved the killer robots and the distinctly alien aliens that commanded them.

I'll stick with it for a while to see if the story picks up.

Respond to this thread

xenodyssey ducks in to say...

Posted May 21, 2013

I've been watching both shows. Orphan Black is the one I look forward to each week. It's pretty quirky in it's plot development. The characters of the various clones are different and entertaining and Tatiana Maslany does a great job in portraying them. For what has been happening lately the 2nd season might be going off in a different direction which means the show will grow.

Defiance seems to be inspired by many previous shows, including Firefly because it really is a SF western like Firefly.One character had 2 husbands in the last episode which was a different idea. I did find it amusing that the sherrif keeps visiting the local brothel owner, who happens to be the sister of the mayor.

Orphan Black is the one I'll be buying on blu-ray when it's available, Defiance will be a discount dvd box set.

Respond to this comment

Barnesm asserts...

Posted May 21, 2013

Julie Benz on screen and don't foget her stint as the prostitue in Deadwood.

Yeah I too am watching Defiance, its engaging enough and there is hope that it develops into something special.

"amazing what you can do with shipping crates and plastic wrap" for the true exemplars of this craft I'd recommend a british series only made one season, OUTCASTS. With Liam (Davos Seaworth) Cunningham as the commander of the only off earth colony in a far of star system.

Respond to this comment

begee08 mumbles...

Posted May 21, 2013

If you want a bit of backstory, the show's Wikipedia page explains it pretty well.

ie Arkfall and the melange of different races making up the alien presence.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defiance_(TV_series)

I don't mind it so far and will stick with it as it seems to be improving.

I hadn't heard of Orphan Black, I'll be checking that one out.

John Birmingham puts forth...

Posted May 21, 2013

Cheers guv.

Respond to this thread

Mark Clarkson asserts...

Posted May 21, 2013

I've ben looking forward to this series since I first heard about it. As it was coming from one of the minds behind Farscape was a no brainer for me as Farscape was serious science fiction that did not take itself too serious.

The pilot episode was not bad, followed by a bland episode, but it does seem to be getting better.

Amazon has Defiance:The Essential Guide [Kindle Edition] going for free at the moment and it does a good job of detailing the world of Defiance

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted May 21, 2013

Ooh, thanks.

Respond to this thread

Andrew McLaughlin reckons...

Posted May 21, 2013

Hey JB

Is there a trailer that you're aware of...have been unable to find.

Cheers

A

Respond to this thread

TC reckons...

Posted May 21, 2013

Yeah alright, I'm slowly getting suckered in. And having Dexter's dead wife as the Mayor is a brilliant idea. I hope she's a little more switched on in this though.

The game / tv show tie in seems like a cheap gimmick. There are too many awesome games that I already have no time to play so I'm sure as shit not going to play this one.

John Birmingham ducks in to say...

Posted May 21, 2013

No idea what the game is like. But it's a far from a gimmick. You can expect to see more and more of this 'transmedia' stuff in the future.

Respond to this thread

yankeedog is gonna tell you...

Posted May 21, 2013

"The CGI works really hard, but it works really well to create the impression of a living, chaotic, highly devolved city at the end of the world."

The city portrayed is supposed to be St. Louis. They could have skipped the CGI and filmed in East St. Louis, which is a REAL devolved city at the edge of the world.

Respond to this comment

Respond to this comment

Mat D is gonna tell you...

Posted May 22, 2013

Absolutely loving it. Even the Missus enjoys the show, wants to play the game now.

Respond to this comment

Respond to 'Defiance (Updated with freebie)'

"Intelligence" sounds like it should suck but... but... but

Posted May 16, 2013 into Telly by John Birmingham

It could be awesome. I know, the premise of a superspook "ex Special Forces, Delta, CIA guy" with a chip in his head that makes him all Super Neo Matrix is too dumb even for me. And my standards are notoriously low.

But the CBS Fall Preview trailer looks kind of cool. The biff is gnarly and muscular and the action sequences admirably kinetic.

We'll see if they can get the stories and character right.

11 Responses to ‘"Intelligence" sounds like it should suck but... but... but’

Dino not to be confused with ducks in to say...

Posted May 16, 2013

Matter over mind?

Or matter with mind?

It will resonate with a lot of people I figure.

Respond to this comment

w from brisbane mutters...

Posted May 16, 2013

Why are they doing this when they could be bringing back the Six Million Dollar Man?.

Respond to this comment

w from brisbane mumbles...

Posted May 16, 2013

Oh, they mention the Six Million Dollar Man.
I could whip this bloke's butt, once I put on my Google Glass.

Respond to this comment

Dino not to be confused with mutters...

Posted May 16, 2013
w,
The killjoys said Six Million Dollar Man couldn't possibly work cause of the muscular/skeletal problems.
OH and S came down on him with a ton of bricks for not bending his knees when he rolled cars over etc.
Sad but true.
i had a thang for 6milliond Woman Lindsay Wagner grrrrrr ChickyBabe!

w from brisbane is gonna tell you...

Posted May 16, 2013

But Dino, I have seen a ton of bricks land on Steve. It didn't worry him a bit. Well, it did worry him a bit. But he was up and running quick smart.

Yeah, OH&S. Steve was too nice for his own good.

Lindsay Wagner. She was lovely.
I would have loved to see Steve and Jaime Sommers get together. Of course, they would have had to be very careful in the bedroom.

I also had a bit of a thing for Mindy, but that is off topic.

Respond to this thread

tqft reckons...

Posted May 16, 2013

I will watch it - Marg Helgenberger is my 2nd crush after Dana Delaney

Respond to this comment

Anders swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 16, 2013

And here I was hoping that the excellent Canadian series "Intelligence" had finally been given a new lease on life. I knew it was too much to hope for. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend tracking it down.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligence_(TV_series)

Respond to this comment

Murphy is gonna tell you...

Posted May 17, 2013

Didn't they do something like this with Chuck or some show like that?

Is this different because he is Spec Ops?

Not grabbing me, which means it will probably last ten seasons.

Respects,

Murph

On the Outer Marches

Respond to this comment

xenodyssey swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 17, 2013

Sounds like a clone of Continuum without the time travel backstory since Kira's CMR implant does the same kind of things. Talk about tomorrow's technology today.

I think we'll be seeing more stories/shows that use these ideas as "chip in the head" becomes mainstream rather than /SFtechno fringe.

Still, I will be checking out the series.

Respond to this comment

coriolisdave reckons...

Posted May 17, 2013

Speaking of gnarly biffo, if you've not already tried Strike Back it's rollicking good fun (at least, from the rebooted season 2 when it started taking itself not so srsly)

Anders ducks in to say...

Posted May 17, 2013
Oh man, YES. The post s1 grimdark Strike Back rebooted into a spec ops buddy action comedy w/premium cable TnA is quite something.

Sliding catch of a 250lb iron bomb FTW.

Respond to this thread

Respond to '"Intelligence" sounds like it should suck but... but... but'