Television Done Right.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

I have a confession to make. I’ve never watched Mad Men. Not because of any particular reason — my sister watches and likes it — but just because I haven’t gotten around to it yet.

I have, however, watched The Hour.

The Hour is a short-lived BBC drama set in the mid-1950’s, centered around the people involved with a television current-affairs news program called, of course, The Hour. It ran from 2011-2012, lasting only two six-episode-long seasons (a total of twelve episodes), before it was canceled by the BBC due the viewing figures being under their threshold for renewal.

The soundtrack alone — especially the opening title, brilliantly composed by Daniel Giorgetti —  would be enough reason for me to recommend checking out this show. It sets the mood and the era seamlessly, and I could listen to it all day.

The cast is full of talented British actors, including Ben Whishaw (the newest Q in Skyfall, among other credits), Romola Garai (whom I most fondly know from I Capture The Castle), Dominic West (in practically everything), Anna Chancellor (also in practically everything), Oona Chaplin (in Game of Thrones, among other credits), and joining them in the second season, Peter Capaldi (of recent Doctor Who fame, among much else).

The real star of The Hour, however, is the storytelling. There are so many plots and threads and clues throughout each season that new layers will be discovered on each re-watch (something I love), yet still each episode has enough on the surface to draw you in and capture your attention on the first viewing. The pacing in each episode is slow, and it can take awhile to get drawn into the show, but it’s such an exciting and rich story within that it’s worth the effort.

The first episode of The Hour left me feeling like this show had potential, but I wasn’t quite sold on it. I watched the next, and immediately told my sister and parents they had to start watching it. I didn’t need to see any more to know I was on to something special. I started over with my parents (and got so much more out the pilot now that I had an idea where things were headed). They weren’t quite as convinced about it, but were willing to give it a chance. By the fourth episode, they were hooked and as eager as me to watch more.

I don’t want to go into too much details since I like to keep things spoiler-free, and also because I want you to go experience The Hour knowing as little as I did when I started, so you can enjoy seeing the plots unfold as they were meant to. What I will say is that the first season has the overarching storyline of trying to launch and run a cutting-edge format for news program, with a background of actual historical events, and a plot of investigating a conspiracy and murder with a dash of spy-verses-spy. If that doesn’t sound like a fantastic mix, then we obviously have very different tastes. The second season deals with various forms of fall-out, more historical events, different conspiracies of corruption, and so on. It’s just as excellent and exciting.

The producers of The Hour said they had plans for the third season after the cancellation was announced, and it’s clear in the final episode that there are a lot of interesting ways they could have gone with it. However, I think they managed to get the stories and characters to a point where the audience isn’t left completely hanging by never knowing what happened next — always a relief when watching a canceled show. It still feels like an open-ended chapter, but it does have a sense of that chapter having concluded rather than feeling like a cliff-hanger.

The Hour is interesting, intelligent, exciting, well-paced and well-plotted. It has an amazing cast and a perfect soundtrack. It deals with serious issues in a way that is thought-provoking and realistic. There’s very little black-and-white/right-and-wrong in the bigger picture; there’s a lot of conflicting points of view and morals clashing between educated and passionate characters. It’s a compelling program, and it’s good storytelling. If you haven’t yet, you really ought to watch it.



Meanwhile, In Middle Earth…

Dear Cyber-Friends,

I’m a huge Tolkien fan; grew up watching the cartoons, listen to the BBC dramatizations, and of course reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy annually. I was endlessly excited about the first movies, dressed up with friends to go to the theater (something we sometimes did anyway, just for fun), and I even went to Trilogy Tuesday when The Return of the King was released. I could go on for hours discussing passionately why it bothered me every time they showed an elf using tack on a horse, or the character assassination they did of Faramir in The Two Towers, or how perfect Sean Bean was as Boromir, or…well, you get the idea.

There’s a situation every fan of an original work faces when an adaptation is made: how forgiving will you be of changes to the source material? As a geek, I tend to obsess and analyze pretty much everything. While there is nothing wrong with that approach and while it can be quite enjoyable, sometimes that can get in the way of appreciating the storytelling that is being offered.

It can be hard to separate the feelings and emotions and nostalgia you might have for the original from the adaptation, especially if it’s a story that has a lot of personal history for you. Seeing the adaptation, you might spend the whole time arguing in your head with the choices the creators made, picking apart every flaw and alteration. This can be a good exercise in critical analysis, but it’s not exactly a helpful frame of mind for losing yourself in a story.

My approach lately, thanks to the Bardic training over the last two years, is to think about adaptations in terms of oral storytelling traditions. The heart of the story is always present, but the details and events will evolve with each retelling and each storytelling, altered and embellished to become the most compelling it can be, the most meaningful or exciting, to that particular audience at that particular time. The idea that there’s only “one right way” to tell a certain story comes from having written accounts, but that’s an illusion. The old stories grew and changed as much as the people telling them; they were living things. Seen that way, new adaptations of original stories are simply the latest fashion in a very ancient and honored tradition.

With that line of thought, I can separate the original story — which is still whole and complete and able to be revisited at any time — from the evolved version, and enjoy it for what it is. I can compare the different versions from a position where my emotional investment isn’t at stake. I can see it from the viewpoint of a storyteller, and judge it accordingly.

That said, I’m really enjoying the Hobbit movies so far.

Yes, there’s a lot of changes and additions from the source material — even more that The Lord of the Rings Trilogy in certain respects — but I honestly don’t have issue with that. They have kept a lot of little details while I get a thrill out of seeing (the blue butterflies above Murkwood spring to mind). I loved that they used some of the songs in the first movie, by the way, because the books are so full of songs and poems that it seems a shame not to include them. Parts of the first movie came off a bit silly for some people, but The Hobbit was a story for a child. It’s meant to have silly bits.

Of course, making one short book into a trilogy is a bit of an ambitious move, to say the least. However, I personally thing that a lot of the material they added was actually a very appropriate move. Including events Tolkien wrote about in the Indexes gives the story a broader picture of that time in Middle Earth. It’s still drawing from the same source, and it ties the story back into The Lord of the Rings Trilogy as setting up for the epic conclusion.

There are things they added that have no basis in the original writings, of course, but again I can see them as a product of both the medium (what works better in a movie than in a book), and of the times (what current storytelling requires in this era, as apposed to that era). There are very few changes that do not fall into one or the other of those categories.

It’s like the way the story of King Arthur grew and changed over the years and continents, adding the Round Table, adding the Holy Grail, added the love triangle, adding the sister and bastard son. Those parts can tell you so much about the society and politics, about the cultural priorities and beliefs. They become the rings of a tree, that can tell you the age and conditions of the original tale, and map out the path it took to get to you.

The words Tolkien wrote will always be center in my heart. The movies will join the cartoons and the BBC dramatizations to become part of the tale, to add to my experience and pleasure, to creating new paths and new places where I can immerse myself in Middle Earth. And for that gift, I will always be grateful.



In Which I Make A Speech; Or, George Carlin Was Absolutly Correct.

I came across these image and quote on Tumblr. I wanted to re-post it, and decided to add to the caption… Then I realized what I was writing had gone way beyond the original intent of the first post, and would be better on my blog anyway.
So here it is, the speech inspired by the above picture, and augmented with a couple other George Carlin quotes as appropriate — because I like sticking to a theme once I stumble onto one…

Public Schools as we know them started in America about the same time as the industrial revolution and the beginnings of factories….

Before that, if a child went to school, it would have resembled something much closer to what homeschooling looks like: mixed ages being taught by one person, in one room, helping each other learn.Or if the parents were rich, they might have had a private tutor or governess who would have educated them at home.

Most children would also be working for their parents, since the concept of adolescence did not exist yet; you were a child — and generally still expected to help the family — and then you were an adult, with adult responsibilities.

They would leave school to either do that full time, or to start an apprenticeship in which they would become a master of a trade or skill that would support them for the rest of their life. And some would strike out on their own, daring to take the risk of failure in order to have a life beyond those boundaries.

This is the kind of life in which the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) of our country grew up. This is what shaped the minds and thoughts of those who looked at an unfair government, thought long and deeply about the practical and philosophical implications, felt the responsibilities of free citizens, eloquently wrote about all of it, and then acted.

This is the kind of life that led to the founding of the original government; small, underpowered, and given a very specific and limited outline of what exactly it was there for and could do.These people decided that the world needed a Republic, not a democracy (because what is majority rules if not a mob bullying the individual?); Who hobbled the Federal government in favor of the States’ freedom to rule themselves; Who decided the world needed a place where the freedom and the law lay with the people, not the government; Who deliberately and carefully avoided any religion when writing their official documents because they felt religion had no place in the government; Who declared war on their own country (they were English, after all), after all other efforts for equality had been made, because they felt it was their moral duty as citizens.


Imagine how frightening that kind of world would be, to future politicians… Imagine the lengths those people would go to hold on to what little political power they could gain, and use it to gain more.

Think about what this country looks like now, compared to the ideal it was founded to be. Think about the endless laws, the high taxes, the lack of representation, the spying, the government bullying, the fear of our own police force, the huge military, the control of food production, the inequality of opportunities, everything that we live with now. Compare it to the circumstances a certain British colony lived with, that drove them to conclude it was their moral duty as citizens to object, and to stand their ground with those objections.

Think about the kind of things that made this country what it was, and then think about what made it what it is; the path it took, the choices that must have been made, the compromises and broken promises and political misdirection, the secret agendas and hidden deals, the manipulations. What made those things possible?

We did. We stopped being critical thinkers, we stopped watching our government closely enough, stopped calling it out on injustice and assumed power, let it dismantle the checks and balances so carefully put in place. We trusted it, which we were never suppose to do. Governments by nature will try to grow, and as citizens it was our duty to be good gardeners and keep it pruned and weeded. We didn’t. We allowed it to grow wild and rampant, choking out our garden until we support only it, and not ourselves.


The system is breaking down, and it is our choice how far we will allow ourselves to get pulled down with it. Public Schools have robbed many people of the skills and references they might otherwise have had to help them do this, but it’s never too late to start learning again…

With love and hope,