Tag Archives: Television

Danger Man

A lot of people know, or know of, exceptionally weird TV series The Prisoner. “I am not a number. I am a free man!” etc. But before Patrick McGoohan gave the world Number Six, he spent a few years in the lesser known role of secret operative John Drake (who may or may not have been the same character).

Titled Danger Man during the British-only first outing, Drake’s adventures later continued in the United States, as Secret Agent. Lakewood Public Library has most of the show’s run on DVD, and over the past year I have grown rather fond of it.

Streamlined storytelling. Danger Man is, in a lot of ways, elegantly simple. Beyond “John Drake is a Western-powers secret operative,” it scarcely has any kind of premise or continuity. (Drake’s employer, his formal role, and his nationality are all questionable.) Every episode seems to work on its own. Characters are built-up afresh in each story, including Drake to a great extent; his is nearly the only recurring character, and even he goes through little in terms of episode-to-episode character building.

For me, this stripped-down approach is part of the show’s fascination. It comes across as almost an exercise in short-story elegance: a demonstration of how good writing can deliver interest again and again, without employing soap-opera story arcs or world-building. (Possibly this is why I enjoy the initial half-hour episodes most of all, and feel that the longer subsequent episodes are good but stray just a bit from this minimalist charm.)

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Japan round-up

One of the strangest things about spending time in Japan was the surgical masks. Or, rather, how absolutely not-strange they were to nearly everyone around me. After a day or three, I got used to maybe one in five people wearing a mask over his or her face. As I spent more time riding the rails, particularly the JR Yamanote line, I found that this wasn’t even that difficult to imagine an explanation for, either. In a very crowded car, people are literally right in one another’s face, and crowded cars are the norm in Tokyo. I don’t know if the masked themselves would draw this connection— Japan disclaimer—but at all events reaching for some sort of barrier stopped feeling mystifying.

It still felt strange, though. Like someone had announced an outbreak without me noticing. While, in the meantime, the whole thing was routine to everyone else. People wearing masks were a decided minority, but I think in Tokyo it has become like, say, glasses: it has been normalized in the sense that some people wear them, other people don’t, and you really pay it no special regard.

A few other notes about Japan that should wrap up my public commentary…

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Charlie Brown Christmas thoughts

Christmas time once more. I’m still working on getting completely into the swing of things. A week of chaos related (but not exclusive) to changing ISPs has not helped. On the other hand, I’m organized; I’m well along with most of my shopping, lights and decorations are up, Christmas Ale is purchased, my brother’s latest drawing commission is (finally) done, and my cards are underway. Though that last was a trial this year. May post more about this at my design blog, later…

For the moment, though, a thought or two about the timeless Charlie Brown Christmas special. I do like this little cartoon, certainly. (In fact, I may actually buy the DVD just because ABC positively butchered it this year with how many scenes they cut to squeeze in more ads…) Mostly because of tradition, and the inherent endearing character of Peanuts in general, I suppose. I wouldn’t call it brilliant, but it has been around for generations now, really, and it feels like it never gets old. So many scenes and lines and images feel like solid, reassuring cultural reference points.

That said, there are… one or two points of interest, as the great one would say. Particularly related to the last act. For years, now—probably ever since I resumed viewing the CBC after a sort of hiatus from Christmas in my 20s—I have puzzled over Charlie Brown’s disappearance from the stage just before the final scene. Chuck moans “I’ve killed it,” etc., walks offstage, his peers amble up and perform their miracle with the Saddest Christmas Tree Ever, start caroling, and he returns for the big finale. What does he do in the interim? Obviously, this is trivial as can be, and yet every time I watch now, it feels as mysterious and tantalizing as the 18-minute tape gap.

It isn’t difficult to come up with a simple explanation. Chuck goes inside, slumps down in a chair in despair for a moment… then sees and/or hears activity outside, and goes to investigate. But… does he take off his coat and boots, then put them back on, in that short time? More to the point, does anything else happen? He sees the day’s mail, maybe? Catches something on TV? Grabs a snack? Ponders the meaning of life? Stands on the porch listening to his parents argue (wa-wa-wa)? It just feels like there is something missing here. Maybe it’s poignant, maybe not, but the way the star of the show vanishes at that crucial moment without explanation just haunts me. I suppose “the world may never know.”

This year, meanwhile, another little oddity struck me for the very first time.

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America seen through television

I wrote this four years ago, during the previous midterm election campaign. Most of it still applies today, particularly the first half which has nothing to do with party politics.

I see very little television. I watch a few History Channel shows on the web, and an occasional football or basketball game. But I don’t watch the evening news, or Mad Men, or SNL or whatever else people watch. I don’t claim that this makes me a better person, in any way. (I’m not denying myself television because I think doing so is “good for me;” I just have no interest).

But it does make television, when I do see it, awfully strange. Especially television advertising.

For one thing, from what I can tell, if one judges by the assumptions made and promoted by TV commercials during most “mainstream” programming, one gets a very weird and rather dismal impression of male-female relations in American society. The near-exclusively prevailing concept of gender roles seems to depict men as affable-but-dim lunkheads, interested almost entirely in beer and sports. Women, meanwhile, are apparently all ballbusting shrews with no interests whatsoever, other than enforcing their total disapproval of, and maybe occasionally mocking, male behavior.

Presumably of course this is not meant to be taken seriously, but instead, “for laughs.” Ha, ha?

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