Friday Favourites: Television Shows
By The Hodderscape Team
Posted on September 5, 2014 in Friday Favourites, Television with tags Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Heroes, Television, Veronica Mars
While Team Hodderscape do spend a considerable amount of time reading, we’re also rather fond of sitting down on the sofa and watching an episode (or twenty) of our favourite TV show.
Dodo Time is like no other time – was it only this Christmas that I vowed on these pages to finally catch up with ‘the greatest television show of all time?’ Or was it the year before that, box set under my wing, I snuck into my TV room at home and clandestinely inserted disc one into my randomly malfunctioning DVD player. ‘Clandestinely’ because Breaking Bad was banned from Johnson Family Viewing years ago. That early scene where a Mexican Drug Dealer is dissolving into pink sludge in Jesse’s bath and eventually ends up dissolving THROUGH the bath and into the hallway below? THAT was the end of the show for my wife when it first screened on FX.
What’s not to like for a middle aged man suffering a midlife crisis in the story of Walter White? I have Hodderscape, Walt his Blue Meth Empire. He has a secret lab, we have secret printing presses. Our dealers are out there selling science fiction right under the noses of the police. Violent turf wars break out all the time in both our businesses. The parallels are uncanny. I understand Walt. There’s something Dostoyevskian about his preening self-justification in doing what he does, a big ‘screw you’ to life and to the society that’s screwed him. His is an all-too-understandable hubris — he will show everyone what he’s really at, that he will be the BEST Meth cook in New Mexico. Of course this hubris turns inevitably to violent tragedy. Bryan Cranston ‘s performance is one of total believable genius, the apogee of method acting. The symbolism (who could forget the one-eyed pink Teddy Bear from Series Two?), the Ford-like cinematography of New Mexico’s open spaces are both stunning.
I watched night after night, cocking my ear for any family member approaching my lair. Too well I remember the moment when, wine glass in hand, we approached the Series Three denouement. Walter had his explosive device taped to Gus’ Volvo and was waiting to detonate it. Why then did my DVD player choose to stutter, croak, left me, literally, hanging? In a Walter-like rage I shattered the wine glass in my hand.
A new DVD player later I was back on course just when my 16-year-old daughter burst in upon me. ‘Breaking Bad! Cool! Let’s watch together,’ she said. So guess what, I started the show for the third time. It didn’t pall, just seemed even better. And here’s a confession: I still haven’t seen the second part of Series Five. Can’t bring myself to watch as I know what’s coming, have read the spoilers. I know when Walt goes, something in me will go too.
My first appointment television was Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I wouldn’t go anywhere or do anything on a Tuesday night if a new episode was scheduled), and it wasn’t long after Buffy went off the air that I found my next television love: Veronica Mars. Despite being critically adored and engaging with a devoted fanbase, the show never achieved the kind of ratings it needed and was cancelled after three years. Ten years on, the franchise has been given new life by a Kickstarter-funded film and a series of novels, but nothing will ever really match the pleasure and exhilaration of watching the show – and especially its near-perfect first season – when it was first airing.
The same way Oliver finds a lot of relate to in Walter White, I found myself drawn to smart, witty, flinty Veronica – always ready with a quip to keep the high school demons at bay. (Unlike Buffy’s, these are figurative demons.) She may be small and cute (and kind of obsessed with unicorns) but you don’t want to piss her off. Or kill someone she loves, because she will hunt you down and she will make you pay. And that’s the plot of the first season: someone murdered Veronica’s best friend, sending her entire world spinning out of control. Her father loses his job as town sheriff, her mother abandons the family, and she herself becomes a social pariah – which is a big issue when you’re sixteen. Veronica reinvents herself in her quest to find her friend’s murderer and the result is, as I mentioned above, classic television magic. Each episode contains some clue, no matter how tiny, with the entire delicate structure coming together in the first season’s utterly perfect two-episode finale.
I’ve had the pleasure of introducing a number of people to the show over the years – and I went to see the film on opening night – but nothing has ever quite matched the magic of being forced to sit through an agonizing nine-month-long airing schedule to find out who killed Lily Kane.
‘Save the cheerleader, save the world.’
Although it did indisputably go downhill after the first season, Heroes was epic greatness when it first hit our screens in 2006. It was an absolute obsession in my university house; no one was allowed to make plans on a Monday night. I recently had a re-watch of the whole thing on Netflix, and was reminded more than anything else of the awesome cast of characters – my favourites remain the regenerating cheerleader and the ‘master of time and space’ Hiro, although I also have a special place in my heart for little Micah, particularly since I discovered that the actor was also a child piano prodigy (watch this – it’s bonkers).
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
I find it very hard to distill my love for this show into anything that’s remotely intelligible. I remember cancelling everything between 6:45pm and 7:30pm on a Thursday night as someone who was probably a bit to young to really get it, and now as an adult I re-watch it in a continual loop kindly made disturbingly easy by Netflix.
The best place to start is probably the very opening scene. It’s a familiar one: a boy breaks into a school at night, encouraging a reluctant girl to follow him and join in the mischief. You think you know what’s going to happen, then she bites his neck and drains his blood. That’s the kind of thing Buffy does all the time: it takes a familiar horror trope, and it turns it around.
Throughout the course of its seven seasons Buffy did so many ground-breaking things: from the musical episode Once More With Feeling to the surreal dream sequence which ended Season Four, Buffy did things which the kind of shows that get Best Series Emmies would never dare to do.
But, aside from its technical daring, Buffy is also a show with characters you care deeply about. Characters who talk the way real people talk (i.e. not like you talk, but in idioms of their own), who make difficult decisions, who do shitty, selficious things and who in among the vampire and demons worry about things people tell you are trivial like being cool and not fitting in.
It’s a major achievement that for a show which includes giant snakes, mummies and roughly a million vampires, all the major plot arcs have the characters and their development at the centre. It’s not like Buffy doesn’t care about its genre trappings, but because it takes them seriously enough to really explore how people live within a world where those kind of things exist (and I haven’t even started on Spike).
As you may have noticed if you read my recent review of Deep Breath or celebration of 50 years of the show, I’ve got a soft spot the size of a Dalek spaceship for Doctor Who. Yes, I know that it’s a ridiculous kids’ programme with shonky effects. But that sense of humour and craziness is part of the appeal, and is the spoonful of sugar that allows big ideas, drama and horror to be served up as family viewing at Saturday teatime.
What’s more, the Doctor is a true hero: never cruel or cowardly, always using his wits and intelligence, and genuinely treating violence as a last resort. And with his TARDIS, he can take his companions – and us – anywhere in time and space. The possibilities are endless, and while it might occasionally get stuck in a rut, it’s constantly changing and reinventing itself.