Sunday, December 4, 2011

TV Show: Mystery Science Theater 3000

This next TV Show has, unfortunately, been off the air for a while now. Fortunately, it's spiritual descendants are still around, and it's still to catch some episodes of this show online as well. The show in question is Mystery Science Theater 3000, which first aired on the local station KTMA in Minnesota before being picked up by Comedy Central and later the Sci Fi channel.

The show is based around the idea of a man named Joel having been shot into space by a couple of mad scientists to see if they can drive him insane by forcing him to watch truly awful movies. Joel, being a dab hand at mechanical things, makes himself a few robot buddies, Cambot, Gypsy, Tom Servo, and Crow, out of parts from the ship (the Satellite of Love) to keep himself company. To help keep themselves sane, Joel, Tom, and Crow mercilessly riff on the movies and short films sent to them by the Mads. When Joel escapes in the middle of the show's run, he is replaced by former temp agent Mike, who carries on the riffing with Tom and Crow.

The show features mostly older movies, and has Joel/Mike and the two bots appear as silhouettes seated in theater chairs. While they mostly make fun of the films vocally, they will occasionally react physically to the events onscreen by flinching away from oncoming objects or indulging in prop comedy, like pretending to have a weenie roast over an erupting volcano or miming peering out of a window or into a car.

The time spent in the theater is interspersed with Host Segments, which take place on the bridge of the Satellite. These may be a continuation of mockery for that day's movie, a song and dance number, more rarely a chat with the Mads, or something completely different. These only last for a couple of minutes, when they get Movie Sign, it's time to get back into the theater.

Like some of the other things I've mentioned on this blog, I got into the show because of my parents. They were fans back when it was on the air, and picked up the concept of riffing on things from it. One of my fondest memories is of watching a movie with my mother and sister that turned out to be so terrible it still occupies a place of infamy in our minds. Instead of just turning the movie off and writing the rental cost off as a loss, my mom started tearing into the movie out of the blue, single-handedly riffing her way through the entire thing. My sister and I were in stitches, and the afternoon was saved.

As with so many things, it was only when I got to college that I really got into MST3K. I managed to find some episodes online, and quickly found my new favorite thing to do when I finished my schoolwork. This show was a great way to relax and have some laughs at the expense of some truly terrible pieces of cinema. Fortunately or unfortunately, I'm now unable to watch anything without doing at least some light riffing in m head, even shows and movies I really am fond of. It's all in good fun, though, so I don't mind, and I've learned to bite my tongue when I'm with friends so I don't get pillows thrown at me!

Episodes from seasons 4-6 are available on Hulu here:

Movie: Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising

Remember that movie The Gamers talked about earlier? Well, the wonderful people at Dead Gentlemen Productions made a sequel. Granted, this is not new news, but if you enjoyed The Gamers and were not aware of the existence of its younger cinematic sibling, then here you go!

The second movie, as you may have guessed, is called Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising. It fits into the same world as the college setting of the previous movie, but despite a few familiar faces in the cast, only the briefly-appearing Mark was at all present for the events of the first movie. This movie follows the same split storyline approach as the first movie (filming events both inside and outside of the game-verse), though Gamers 2 does focus a little more on the real-world plotline. The special effects, sets, and make-up are similarly excellent for the budget the production team had, and the script is great.

In this movie, Kevin Lodge, a dungeon master for his friends' games, has written his own gaming adventure, but his friends have never been able to get to the end of the story without dying first. Determined to beat the game, they decide to give another whack at it with new characters and a bigger party, bringing Joanna, the enthusiastic ex-girlfriend of one of the players into the game. With the original gamers playing brand new monk, bard, and gender-bending sorceress characters, will the addition of Joanna's fighter character and a paladin played by Lodge make all the difference in the outcome of this new campaign? Well, I try not to spoil too much here, so you'll just have to watch it yourself if you want to find out.

In my opinion, this movie is even funnier than the original Gamers. Like the previous movie, you don't even actually game to understand the movie. Heck, you don't even have to see the previous movie to find this one funny. I watched Gamers 2 before I ever watched The Gamers and I still thought it was hilarious.

Both the real-world and the in-game characters are given more time for character development, and the lines are just laugh-out-loud funny. The character interaction is just golden. The male-played sorceress tends to forget both her alignment and her sex, the bard tends to find himself in fatal situations, and the monk tends to fancy himself a philosopher, all of which inevitably lead to hilarity. The in-game characters, while not really fully fleshed out, do put forth a few side-splitting performances of their own. In the real-world-verse, the character interaction and lines are interesting and pretty realistic, and the characters do feel like real, everyday people.

I can't say much more without spoiling much of the humor or or spamming this post with quotes, so I'll end by saying that if you liked The Gamers, or even if just this movie sounds interesting, I whole-heartedly encourage you to go out and watch it.

Internet: TV Tropes

This post is about one of the greatest, most entertaining time-sucking voids I have ever encountered. The name of this infinite source of entertainment and time-wasting is TV Tropes. It really is surprisingly addictive. I don't even want to think about how many hours I've spent trawling through webpage after webpage. The very nice google search option for the site only makes finding something interesting all that much easier.

TV Tropes is a wiki full of things called tropes, defined on the site as "devices and conventions that a writer can reasonable rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations" when encountering a story. These are ideas that aren't just present in books: many tropes are present across all types of media. This website catalogs, explains, and gives examples of tropes in every type of storytelling medium you can possibly imagine, up to and including real life.

This can be interesting both from an audience-member, "wow, look at all these narrative devices! I never realized XYZ was so prevalent!" point of view and from an author/creator "So this is a legitimate narrative device? And this is how it translates to XYZ type of media? Hmm- useful to know" point of view. I like to do some of my own writing, and I've found that Trope pages themselves will often spark a completely different idea in my head, or clarify a point about convention for me.

There is definitely an element of humor in many of the entries, though more mature ideas, like those relating to violence and abuse, are discussed in an equivalently mature fashion. The site is also committed to being, in their words, "family friendly," so no raunchy/explicit articles, a less-than-liberal use of strong language, and no nude pics. For the most part, you won't have to worry about what your parents might think if they unexpectedly appeared behind you while you were browsing the wiki. Usually.

The site isn't just a giant trope dictionary. It also has pages for hundreds of different books, TV shows, webcomics, anime and manga, western comics and animation- you name it, they probably have it. And if they don't have it, it's entirely possible to make a page. If fanfic is your thing, they have pages comprised of troper-recommended fanfic for many of these hundreds of books, TV shows, webcomics, etc etc. Did you miss an episode/equivalent of your favorite TV show? You can pop over to the recap page and look it up. These recaps also include a list of the tropes present in that particular episode. Have a favorite actor/author/artist? TV Tropes has a wide range of creator pages for your browsing pleasure. Did you encounter an example of a trope in your own life? Well, once the Troper Tales wiki is fully completed, you'll be able to add your stories and browse the hundreds already there. TV Tropes also has its own forum. As you can see, there are plenty of ways to while away the hours on this site.

In fact, Troper Tales is not the first example of a series of pages that had to be moved off into its own little independent site. The Fetish Fuel examples tended to wander too far into mature content for the likings of the site, so it got its very own little wiki to help keep the site as "family friendly" as possible.

Since this is a widely-editable wiki, you will want to take what you read with a grain of salt, especially about things pertaining to the real world. But since if you're on TV Tropes you probably have internet, you are perfectly able to fact-check what you find out, and even add it the corrected information to the website if you so choose.

The organization of the wiki encourages wandering over onto other pages. Articles and entries are littered with "potholes," links to other pages within the text itself. These potholes are used both for informative and humorous purposes. A section of text relating to another work or trope will be potholed to that work or trope so that you can get more information on it. A section of a text featuring something that is obviously untrue or sarcastic will often be potholed to "Blatant Lies" or "Sarcasm Mode" for a humorous effect. The longer you spend on this site, the more likely you will be to hover your mouse cursor over in-text links on completely different pages and get confused when a TV Tropes page doesn't pop up. Yes, I have actually done this. Several times. Don't judge me.

The Index system also gives browsers a nudge toward beginning a "Wiki Walk" (look it up!) of their own. Articles are most often indexed into categories, and the bottom of a page will feature the category or categories it is indexed in, along with the two articles above and below it in alphabetical order if you're curious about other similar pages.

There really is only so much one can say and convey about TV Tropes, so my recommendation is that if this sounds like something that would interest you, try wandering over to the site itself and selecting a couple tropes at random. Just make sure you have some snacks and a couple of hours to spare!

TV Tropes can be found here:

Don't say I didn't warn you!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

TV Show: Doctor Who

Doctor Who is one of those TV shows that is so much better than it sounds. I'm not kidding. Would you watch a show that featured a much-older-than-he-looks humanoid alien who occasionally changes his face when he's about to die and runs around the universe with a series of younger companions in a blue police box that's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside? No? Pity, because it's a great show. Tons of other people agree with me, because it's been on (with a couple breaks) for almost fifty years.

The show began back in 1963 with William Hartnell as the first Doctor. Yes, that's what he's called, just "the Doctor." His name isn't actually "Doctor Who," despite what the credits for the first three actors may say. His name isn't "the Doctor," either- we don't know what his name is. "The Doctor" is just fine. And it's accurate, too- because despite the mandates of his species, the Time Lords of the planet Gallifrey, against interfering in the affairs and events of other races, the Doctor doesn't hesitate to step in and meddle when somebody else is trying to mix things up. He makes things better (like a real doctor! Yeah, I know, don't explain the joke...), for which he is rarely thanked, and occasionally loses his life for it.

Yes, he does die. As of right now, he has died (in official canon- there have been a lot of sort-of-canonical and meant-to-be-canonical and is-this-canonical?-no-one's-sure kind of material over the decades since the show first aired) ten times, so he's on his eleventh body. But one of the neat things about Time Lords is that they can do something called regeneration. When a Time Lord is fatally injured (or actually, even if they just feel like a change), they can change their whole body into a brand new one. Of course, they can still be killed-off-for-real if they are put into an environment where even a new body could not survive or killed again before their regeneration cycle is complete, but so far the process has worked well- or at least, well enough.

Right after regeneration, the Doctor is weak, and often has trouble figuring out who he is and what's going on. These post-regeneration brain crazies can make things difficult for the people traveling with him, as only one of these people has been a member of his own species. Occasionally, the Doctor has had trouble remembering who he is or who his companions are. The brain crazies associated with his regenerations from his fourth self to his fifth self (long fall off a radio telescope), fifth self to sixth self (a particularly nasty poison), and from his seventh self to his eighth self (the bullets wouldn't have killed him, but the medical malpractice sure did) were particularly difficult.

With a new body comes an entirely new personality and a completely new wardrobe. This can be a little jarring, and there will always be those fans who piss and moan and scream that the show's been "RUINED FOREVER GARBLARGHL!!!11!!!", but if you give the new guy a chance, he'll knock your socks off. He might even become your new favorite Doctor. He definitely will if you're me- most people have a favorite incarnation, but I love them all. They're all the same guy, really, and I don't care what anyone says, every one of them has something special about him.

Different people have different 'nicknames' for each of the regenerations, but I've always known them by the number of their incarnation (the First Doctor is One, the Second is Two, the Third is Three, and so on and so forth). The incarnations don't actually have different names- on the show, they are all just "the Doctor," but since he's been so many different people, it's helpful to have different ways of referring to each incarnation in informal circles to keep the confusion to a minimum.

Doctor Who is typically divided into Classic and New Who (sometimes called the revival), thanks to those "breaks" I mentioned earlier. The original show was cancelled in 1989, during the Seventh Doctor's run. A TV movie was produced in 1996 that featured the Eighth Doctor (his only on-screen appearance to date), but Doctor Who did not return as a series until 2005 with the Ninth Doctor. If I try to cover all of this in one post, it's going to be painfully long, so I'm going to split talking about Doctor Who up into Classic Who, the TV Movie, and New Who posts. I might not get to them for a while (seriously, there is a lot of material to cover), but I'll get around to it eventually. So bear with me, tiny population of followers!