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Opinions are fun. My friends tell me I am someone with lots of opinions and that's fine since I don't get mad at others when they disagree with me. In this same spirit I am interested in hearing yours views as long as you are able to share your views without boiling over. I look forward to hearing from you. I tend to write in the form of short essays most of the time, but contributions do not need to be in this same format or size. Some of the content here will date itself pretty quickly, other content may be virtually timeless, this is for the reader to judge.

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Posted at: Feb/22/2010 : Posted by: mel

Related Category: Perspectives,

A couple of weeks ago having had a late night beer, cheeseburger and fries I came home and could not get right to sleep, heartburn seems to plague me much more now than 20 years ago. Popping some antacids I decided to take up the remote and watch a little TV to take my mind off my discomfort.

After some channel surfing I settled for an hour of Star Trek. As is normally the case, the Captain and crew faced dangers that would have, and should have killed them 15 episodes ago. Facing aliens of illogical biology and unimaginable weapons they seemed doomed. Despite all these overwhelming obstacles they managed to restart the engines, kill the evil aliens, have a sarcastic comment, all in the last 8 minutes. As farfetched as all this was, it is the normal fodder of television serials. I guess if reality was important Spock would have killed the Doctor out of frustration in the first ten minutes of the first episode and they would have all died 15 minutes later at the hands of a vastly superior non-human intelligence.

Still not able to sleep I continued my use of the remote control until I settled on another one of my favorite serial shows. I know…the writing is marginal at best, but somehow I do find it entertaining. Let's start with the bad guys. There are battalions of storm-troopers all dressed in black; check. There are secret police; check. The bad guys are determined to brutally kill everyone who doesn't look like them; check. The bad guys are led by a guy who has a tendency to go into apoplectic rage when he doesn’t get his way; check. Just to make sure I can figure out who the bad guy is quickly, he even has the tiny little standard issue villain mustache. Does the character sound predictable? Of course, being television, all this occurs in a country that in previous episodes was ordinary, and even believable enough that I could be sympathetic with the citizens.

I wouldn't even mind the lack of originality if the writers weren't so predictable in their development of the evil empire. Just when it looks like nothing can stop these evil Germans we are supposed to believe that in the middle of this war, they turn around most of their forces and attack their Russian allies to the north. Obviously, now the evil Germans are fighting what is clearly an unwinnable war on two fronts. There must be another way the writers could have shown us just how sneaky and untrustworthy the bad guys could be? What is television without the plot just totally going over the top! Here the Germans are, fighting a war on two fronts that every viewer knows they can’t win and all of a sudden their evil leader decides to divert all their remaining resources to making an unimaginable super weapon and expanding their chain of death camps. I know, real people just can’t be that scary, that’s why we have to find them in the movies and television, but back to the plot. As is normally the case, writers have a tough time in any series staying true to their characters, by the third episode the evil leader of the super-Aryan race has formed an alliance with the distinctly non-Aryan Japanese, what can I say…I’m just trying to not think about my heartburn.

Consistency counts and the good guys aren’t written much better. Their leader is this guy named Churchill. It took him three tries to pass the entrance exam to get in to their military college. After many years of a virtually unremarkable career he is finally given a leadership role in one episode where he is supposed to fight the Ottomans in the Battle of Gallipoli. As an officer previously only noted for his polo skills it seems ridiculous to place him in a leadership role. Predictability makes for low ratings, as expected no one watched when Churchill got his butt kicked by the Ottomans. Now, all of a sudden, he's not only the Prime Minister, we're supposed to believe that he is a brilliant military commander and widely considered the greatest orator of his time. I guess he had a contract that the show producers couldn’t break so they had to bring him back and this was the only role not yet cast. Now we have a leader of the British Empire who can apparently convince his countrymen to keep fighting against all odds. He is also a natural at humor who often shows he can produce a perfectly timed one-liner just when the audience needs it. Writers always give the good guys more depth and humanity so that we can easily associate with them.

Sounds like all the standard television stuff "shining amazing good guys who always save the day right after the last commercial" versus "evil legions of darkness bent on torture, genocide and world domination." I know, in the real world the nuances of politics and power struggles would never let this stuff actually happen. Guess what, the show was a hit so they had to start writing more and more episodes. Just like any show that goes on for too long, the plots just get more and more out in left field. I remember one episode in particular that they called “the Battle of the Bulge”. In this "Battle of the Bulge", a vastly superior force of evil Germans surround a small Allied battalion in the dead of winter and demands they surrender or be killed. Drama counts, so this Allied battalion is also without any winter equipment just to make sure we know they are really struggling (adds to the hero factor). The Allied general in charge of the battalion when asked to surrender sends back a single-word reply: “Nuts!” The overwhelming Germans forces attack and, miraculously, the tiny Allied force holds them off long enough for reinforcements to arrive and turn the tide to victory. I seriously doubt that there were any retired military consultants helping with the writing of that episode. I guess the general did not go over well with audiences either. They only gave him one line and we never saw him again in later episodes. Ever notice how actors given only one line seldom return in any additional episodes.

Probably the worst part was how they wrote the ending. After all this jockeying for power and bloody battle scenes they all of a sudden had the villain kill himself and all the Germans admitted they had been wrong. The rumor is that a writers strike forced the producers to use scabs to come up with the ending.

Apparently, the audience liked the show enough that it got picked up for another season. Just like in Star Trek, the writers had to come up with a whole new set of bad guys even though it felt like they were recycling the scripts, Klingons or Romulans..they all blur together. This time we had the Americans fighting the Japanese in the Pacific. Pretty much the same structure as before – the Americans are fighting an evil empire that tortures and kills civilians along with showing no mercy for their prisoners. New this time was the leader of the Americans, a kindly old gentlemen in a wheelchair (I think they stole that from X-Men).

The writers spent the entire season building up how the Japanese home islands were a fortress and that they will never surrender. To prove this point the Americans do manage to take one of the home islands, but at a terrible cost to both sides. Obviously, now we have a war story that could go on forever and never have a true victor.

There is no limit to what can come out of the minds of those screen writers. They invent a completely impossible super weapon that has never been mentioned in any previous episode. Apparently the Americans got some super group of scientists together to invent it, only we never heard anything about it in any previous episode because it was "top secret". Despite the thousands of people supposedly involved in its development it managed to stay secret. Obviously just good fiction because we know that could never happen in real life. These scientists manage to invent a weapon that is more than a thousand times more powerful than anything that anyone else had ever seen before. I think the writers watched too many episodes of “Stargate” because this super weapon is supposed to get its power from some mystical source of energy that we are lead to believe has always been there if you just knew how to unlock it. Anyway, the Americans use this new weapon to blow up two cities and the undefeatable Japanese who have sworn to never surrender, all of a sudden surrender. I personally thought it was a little weak on the plot side.

I don’t want to sound like a complainer, but some of the metaphors for the subplots were really weak as well. Come on, calling a code machine “Enigma” because it generates an enigmatic code is almost childish. In childrens books character names are often written so we can instantly get an image of the character, nevertheless, some of these names really lacked for imagination. Calling the Russian leader “Man of Steel” in Russian and the Frenchman "de Gaulle", whoever came up with these names needs to take a creative writing class, audiences are not that dumb!

Anyway, the series ended and I never did hear what happened to all those evil henchmen who worked for the German villain with the funny mustache. Maybe they will revive the series later and make more episodes on that theme. They could always revive the characters in some kind of a court room drama, just so long as we aren't faced with something as rediculous as these super-Aryan's hiding in South America, like anyone would believe that!

Rumor has it that a show more to my reality oriented tastes will be on soon. Apparently, in this new show 4 kids climb through a closet, get advice from a talking lion, and kill an evil white witch who has been enslaving a world in a perpetual winter. That sounds like something I can truly believe. This stuff on the History Channel is just a little too farfetched even for my imagination.

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Hans Hoffman
The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.
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