Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pip, Pip,Tut, Tut.

Low Expectations.
I'm watching this new BBC adaptation of GREAT EXPECTATIONS with Gillian Anderson as a ridiculously too-young-and-glamorous Miss Havisham. There are obvious problems, like Pip looking more like a coked-out runway model than a blacksmith's apprentice...

Douglas Booth, aka "Pip" in this new Great Expectations, in the excellent Christopher Isherwood biopic Christopher and His Kind, based on Isherwood's wonderful memoir of the same title, where Dougie had rather a lot of gay sex with Doctor Who!

...but it has lots of atmosphere, the scenes are excitingly staged, David Suchet is giving an interesting performance as Jaggars, and they hew closely to the novel.

But, and this is a HUGE "BUT," they've eliminated ALL of Charles Dickens's dialogue! This is tantamount to doing Hamlet and tossing out all of Shakespeare's "tiresome" poetry and writing their own dialogue.

Message to ALL TV writers everywhere: You may think you can write better dialogue than Charles Dickens did. Well here's your Reality Check: YOU CAN'T!!!! There's a reason Dickens is revered as the greatest English-Language novelist in history and you are not: BECAUSE HE IS! Do NOT rewrite his dialogue! The EGO! To rewrite Dickensian dialogue!

And especially, do not put in anachronistic cliches!

Pip: "Yes, but..."
Jaggars: "No buts about it!" 

Pip: "Curiosity is natural under the circumstances..."
Jaggars: "Curiosity killed the cat."

Dickens never wrote that cliched, jarringly anachronistic crap.

Herbert Pocket is being well-played by a handsome and engaging young actor who happens to be Charles Dickens's Great-Great-Great-Grandson, Harry Lloyd. You may remember him in "The Family of Blood" on Doctor Who about five years ago. He should have DEMANDED his G-G-G-Grandfather's words be restored.

This man has Charles Dickens's genes in his DNA. He even looks like Young Dickens.

Young Charles Dickens. See!

 And in the program intro, Laura Linney said that Dickens "wrote over 15 best sellling novels." Excuuuuuse me! I have read every word of every novel Charles Dickens ever wrote, and there are fourteen and one-half novels by Charles Dickens, and ...that's all! He wrote a lot of short stories and novellas. At usually 100 pages, A Christmas Carol is a novella, not a novel!

Foutreen and a half are not "more than fifteen." They aren't even fifteen. They are fourteen and a half. At best, they are "a bit over fourteen." But yes, they are all best sellers, all fourteen and a half of them. (The "half" is The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He died when it was exactly half written. He took who done it and what they done with him to his grave.)

Charlie, thinking up better dialogue than 21st Century BBC writers can.
So listen, if you're going to do Charles Dickens, then do Charles Dickens. This is not an isolated incident. Three years ago I had to issue a similar spanking over a BBC TV adaptation of Little Dorrit which had done the same thing, as had a BBC TV Oliver Twist with a sexy Tom Hardy as Bill Sykes, all his disfiguring tattoos hidden. But my words, like those of Dickens, were ignored. I live in terror of the next BBC Dickens adaptaion being A Tale of Two Cities, and opening with : "It was a good time; it was bad time," and ending with "The thing I'm gonna do now is a whole lot better than all the stuff I did previously."
In the words of Star Kist: "Sorry, Charlie."
Cheers, darlings.

Charlie as drawn by Campbell Grant for Richard Armour's hilarious English Lit ReLit.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Scarlet Housewives

Ladies of Wisteria Lane.
Dana Delaney: "Ladies, you miss me?"

Me, watching at home: "No."

After 8 years of "Is it a soap? Is it a comedy? Is it a drama?", ABC's once-popular Desperate Housewives finally concluded forever last night, and none too soon. In fact, about two seasons too late. We were promised that the series finale would answer all our questions, but many remain: Did they all movie to Wisteria Lane by coincidence, or did Jacob bring them? Now that Mrs. McClusky is dead, will Hurley be the New Mrs. McClusky? And how original to let the Smokin' Monster escape and have all charges against her dismissed.

Little Dougie and I paid a little visit to Wisteria Lane with some friends back in April, out on the Universal Studios backlot. Although less exciting to visit than The Bates Motel..

"Norman, is that you?"

...or the plane crashed in a suburb from War of the Worlds...

Tom Cruise leaves a mess in suburbia. (That's Little Dougie, not Tom Cruise. Dougie is standing on top of Tom.)

...Wisteria Lane was the only set we visited that was actually in use, as Desperate Housewives wound up shooting its final episodes. We weren't allowed out of the golf cart to romp. Drat!

Closed now, forever.
Mrs. Ward Cleaver was shocked, shocked!, to see what has become of her neighborhood 50 years on!
What Little Dougie had in mind for Eva, I can not pretend to know. He barely noticed there were women on the show. Carlos Solis? Si! Gabrielle Solis? No!

The fact is, I had some major problems with how the plots wound up.

[Warning: Major Spoilers ahead. If you plan to watch the Desperate Housewives finale but have not yet, do not read further.]

Let's take the sluts one by one, shall we?

First off Lynette Schaivo.

"Controlling, manipulative bitch? Moi?"

When the show began, a hundred years ago, Lynette seemed like the sane, sensible one. Nope. It soon became apparent that she was every bit as total a Control Freak as the evil Bree, and had resolutely vowed NEVER to let her husband win ANYTHING! If she couldn't control his life and choices fairly, there was no vile tactic she would not stoop to to win, and utterly erase his choices from existence. (How perfect that Lynette worked in advertising, which is all about underhanded manipulation and lying.) She was a total bitch, but disguised as a loving wife and occasionally-loving mother. Why her sons didn't grow up gay, I can not imagine. Having this bitch control your every moment growing up ought to be enough to turn any boy gay. Hell, I don't know how her husband stayed straight. Oh wait. He used to be gay, back on the original Melrose Place.

Doug Savant remembers being gay with nostalgia.

The smartest thing Tom Schaivo ever did was to leave and divorce Lynette, who had made systematically castrating him her hobby and avocation in life. But I had no hope that it would stick. Despite the fact that his self-respect DEMANDED he leave the controlling bitch forever, he, oh-so-predictably, caved to TV necessity and went crawling back to her in the finale, Network TV's idea of a happy ending, even though it's really a tragic ending. Does being pussy-whipped really hurt anymore, when you've left your balls behind forever?

So that story ended predictably and unhappily. They then moved to New York City, where it will be easier for Lynette to pass as nice.

Whether new Baby Daddy Preston Schaivo moved with them, given his new-born baby, is unclear. I hope he stayed behind.

What a casting coup, to cast Young Matt Damon as the grown Schaivo Twins.

Let us move on to the least of the Housewives, the genuinely nicest but also the most-irritating: Susan.

Susan Mayer in less-desperate days.

The problem here was not so much the character as the actress. Susan's schtick would have gotten tiresome soon anyway, but that it was the highly-tiresome Teri Hatcher playing her made her go stale all the faster. Teri had worn out her welcome on my TV a decade earlier on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, where she was actually more annoying than having a Republican playing Superman. Susan's slapstick inability to do anything quickly became the stuff one fast-forwarded through on Desperate Housewives. What Mike Delfino saw in her always eluded me. Not addressed on the final broadcast was when Mrs. McClusky needed home care to die at home instead of in a hospice, and Susan blithely volunteered she and her poker pals to take care of her unto death shall she be cancelled, while not mentioning to anyone that she was moving away and was going to be sticking the others with the responsibilities for which she'd just volunteered. Fortunately for Mrs. McClusky, she died before Susan could move.

It took a while to accept James Denton as a good guy, after seeing him play a nasty villain for a few seasons on the now-forgotten The Pretender.

Knowing from a friend who has had the misfortune to work with Teri Hatcher what a total pain-in-the-ass she can be, I find myself wondering if the violent death of Mike Delfino a few episodes back was the result of James Denton, after some trying day of putting up with Teri at her worst, happening to say within Mark Cherry's earshot: "Just shoot me!" Or was it just a way to punish Susan's character, since punishing Teri herself was off the table.

So Lynette and Tom reconciled: Unhappy Ending #1. Mike Delfino shot leaving Susan Mayer Delfino a miserable widow. Unhappy Ending #2.

Let's movie on to man-favorite Gabrielle Solis.

Eva Longoria.

Gabby was always the funniest of the Housewives. Her high-maintenance selfishness was a schtick that, unlike Susan's clumsiness, never grew old. And her taste in men was superb.

(Jessie Metcalf, barely visible in the above photograph due to Eva's camera-hogging, left the series way too soon - I always say Desperate Housewives jumped the shark when Jessie Metcalf left the show, or just got dressed . Fortunately he will be back shortly in the exciting Dallas reboot which I can not wait to see!)

For her "Happy Ending," she decided she was "tired" of being selfish (My lifelong experience is that this is something folks never grow tired of in themselves, though they generally find it tiresome in others.), and decided to become selfless and self-sacrificing to save Carlos. Okay, except for two small matters:

1. She had this epiphany regularly, about once a season. It never stuck.

2. In her case, her self-sacrifice was to let an innocent old lady who was dying of cancer take the blame for her and Carlos's crimes. Way to go, Miss Unselfish!

Which brings us to Mrs. McClusky, aka the wonderful Katheryn Joosten.

Kathryn Joosten.

Katheryn Joosten I have had the pleasure of meeting, and she is absolutely wonderful. Her vanity-free performance in the final episode lifted the whole morass up. She was wonderful, and her death scene was truly moving, even if it was ladled over with the birth of Susan's grand-daughter (Yes, Teri Hatcher, you're now playing grandmothers, and will never again play anything but grandmothers!) in a "Circle-of-Life" bit that was so heavy-handed, I expected her 45rpm record to get replaced by the opening number from The Lion King. And Katheryn's understated, beautiful performance was made all the more difficult in that she was, and had been for some time, required to pretend to be in love with Orson Bean. That takes major acting chops! At least she didn't have to pretend Bean was funny.

But where was Lily Tomlin as her sister for her death? Hello?

While I'm on lesser, supporting Wisteria Lane housewives, I really could have done without the tired old wheeze of a subplot about Renee's desperate attempts to become a housewife, but unable to get to the church on time. Gee, I haven't seen that farcical bit more than a billion times. All it needed was Mike Tyson and a tiger.

"Get Me To the Church on Time"
Copyright 1955, Alan J. Lerner.

I'm not a big fan of Vanessa Williams. Oh, I saw her play the witch in Sondheim's Into the Woods onstage once, and she was good, though hardly a Bernadette Peters. She's good enough, though I find her much-vaunted beauty to be in serious decline, and the character of Renee was a drag on the show's later seasons. We already had a self-involved selfish bitch. The show didn't need two. The best thing about her this season was the excuse she provided to keep putting Aussie mega-hunk Charles Measure in front of our faces, albeit, generally wearing too much clothing.

A major Australian hunk, Charles Measure provides yet more reason to go down under, and also to visit Australia.

Okay, I can't avoid her anymore. Time to deal with the stink of Bree. From the pilot episode on, I have loathed Bree Van De Kamp. Why doesn't everyone?

"Evil? Me? I use coasters!"

Bree is the sort of uptight, repressed, anal retentive, control freak Republican bitch I have loathed all my life. Marcia Cross brilliantly played her with total commitment and believablity, which only made her even more horrifying and hateful. I've known women exactly like Bree all my life; my family is full of them, and I have hated all of them. But none of the women like Bree in my family were murderers, except of hope and goodness.

For 8 years, Mark Cherry struggled to try to make Bree likable and sympathetic. A lost cause with me. Her being a Republican alone is sufficient reason to hate her. I never got why the other Wisteria women were friends with her. She's a Republican! She voted for Bush! She voted for Sarah Palin! Shun her!

So her struggles with drinking (Why struggle? What is wrong with the evil woman?) and finding her inner-slut left me unmoved. Everything awful that happened to her was less than what she deserved.

Much of the last season revolved around supposed suspense as to whether Bree would be convicted of a murder of which she was innocent, mostly, except for that pesky accessory-after-the-fact stuff. I found this plotline to hold zero suspense for several very good reasons.

First off, no way in hell was Mark Cherry going to end the series with Bree going to prison (or better yet, executed), though she did go to Kentucky, which may be worse, where she now has a political career, spreading her baleful evil even farther. Bree's political career plot wind-up was the most frightening thing that happened in the whole series. I guess now she throws her repressed teaparties for the Teabaggers.

Secondly, although she didn't kill Gabby's child-raping step-father, she DID kill her first two husbands! The series kept conveniently forgetting her homicidal forms of divorce. She IS guilty of murder, TWO murders, and in prison is where she belongs. She is a disgusting character, and if the show had had any balls or reality, she'd have been one of the villains, not one of the heroines.

Frankly, the whole hiding of Carlos's killing of Gabby's stepfather plot that dominated this last season made no sense whatever. Guess what? If you find a man raping your wife, and especially when it's a man with a history of raping your wife, you're allowed to defend her, and if he gets killed in the process; all the state will do is thank you for saving them the trouble and expense (both financial and emotional) of a rape trial.

Mrs. McClusky's noble gesture saved Bree. What a waste of a noble gesture. But it also saved all four of the main housewives, as the DA apparently had no interest in investigating the conspiracy to hide this murder. The fact is that Bree, Gabby, Susan, Lynette, Carlos, and Ben are all guilty of Obstruction of Justice, but we're supposed to just forget about all that. It's not quite as big a miscarriage of justice as when Blake Carrington got away with murdering his son's gay lover on Dynasty 30 years ago, but it's still bothersome.

Scott Bakula back when he was a sizler.

And no way did I buy that rushed, lame "romance" between Bree and her lawyer, played by Scott Bakula. (Scott's looks have jumped the shark also, and the shark looks to have bitten him in the face mid-jump. He used to be so hot.)  That was hurried, unconvincing, and included solely so Bree didn't end the series manless, she having killed or driven to suicide all of her husbands. Scott, RUN!

What did I like about the series finale of Desperate Housewives? Well, as mentioned above, I loved Katheryn Joosten's great performance. Clear room on your mantle for another Emmy, Katheryn.

And I liked that the last shot ever of Carlos had him shirtless. He was always, to me, the hottest of the Desperate Husbands

Carlos, muy macho hottie!

Frankly, Ricardo Chavira first made a big impression on me in a supporting role back on the great series Six Feet Under (which had one of the best series finales ever. Everyone died.), especially this scene, which Little Dougie must have rewound and rewatched 30 times. Ricardo proved he didn't need no stinkin' housewives!

"Gabby! Ah... Great dress, honey."
Ricardo Chavira, Six Feet Under, and 9 inches in. (And one very lucky undress extra.)
So overall, it was a disappointment, but at least now I can relax and enjoy The Hounds of Baskerville on Sherlock, because someone is still making quality TV, albeit , in England. (Though Revenge is pretty good. I'll have to write about it soon.)

Tallyho Tallulah!, the new volume of my memoirs, will be available very soon. Keep watching this blog for ordering information as soon as it becomes possible to pre-order.

As for the Wisteria Lane housewives, frankly my darlings, glad to see the back of you. Cheers darlings.

The show's stars await the next tram of tourists.