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January 12, 2007

Comments

Well see, now I'm going to have to skip this thread after this comment as (a) I have the Firefly/Serenity discs but haven't watched them; (b) plan to watch B5 at some point; and (c) inevitably there will be some BSG 3.0 thrown in, which I have to wait for the DVDs to come out before watching (don't ask).

So a happy holiday weekend to all, hopefully we'll not be at war with Iran until the workweek starts again.

Go Saints!

The nickel version of my opinion is that B5 and Firefly are complete inverses of one another. That doesn't make one superior to the other, just that they have almost nothing in common beyond the space travel bits.

[On reflection that's not quite true as both show the failures of Order (capitalization quite deliberate) and the virtues of independence, though what that means is quite different in the two series.]

Firefly is one of those shows that so many people seem to stumble into by accident, word of mouth, or (as in my case) a friend with an evangelizing spirit. It's the epitome of a hidden gem.

We got Firefly a year ago and still haven't had a chance to watch it ("Honey, the baby's finally asleep, want to try to watch a DVD? ... Honey, are you asleep too?") Maybe next time this topic arises...

Go Saints!

You're not a native Saints fan, are you Ugh?

They're the closest thing we have to a pro football team here in Mississippi.


I'm one that caught the Firefly bug from an evangelist.

I was more or lessed dragged to a Firefly Marathon party arranged by some local fans in anticipation of Serenity's theatrical release. I was tepid about the whole thing... until about 5 minutes into the pilot :)

I liked the movie enormously when I first saw it. As time has goes by, I like the series more and the movie less. Not because the movie isn't good - it's quite good - but because it abandoned most of what made the series so eccentric and charming. Not to mention that some of the more interesting loose ends the series left hanging were, shall we say, rendered moot by the movie.

Although I'm a B5 fan as well, I think that Firefly/Serenity is far better at both social commentary and basic dialogue. Joss is a more honest observer of the whole good/evil thing, inasmuch as few of his characters are fully one or the other (perhaps Niskanin). His characters are wittier (Jayne excepted), allowing him to pepper the audience with bad puns and inside jokes.

I think B5's dialog and wit stack up just fine with Firefly, bearing in mind that Whedon and Straczynski have very different styles of both. Whedon's a lot more wired into the pop-cultural Zeitgeist; Straczynski is - I don't want to say "more of a classicist," but don't know how else to put it. He painted with a much broader yet subtler brush, anyway.

Also, B5 had so many more seasons in which to create its milieu, and its characters. I can't think, offhand, of any popular series characters whose character arcs were as profoundly developed - who came out at the end profoundly different people, and got there as a natural consequence of what happened to them, rather than just being wanked that way - as G'Kar and Mollari.

Make sure you watch the entire series, in order, first, before the movie Serenity. Faux screwed the fans by inexplicitly showing them out of order, which confused the crap out of us, and that's why the show got killed in its first season.

You'll love the movie better that way. It's very very good. You can't compare to B5 - the story plot of B5 was greater, but the graphics and characters weren't as strong (well, some of them). I loved both, as others say above, for different reasons. Like Casey says, the B5 gang was much more developed. If only Firefly had that chance.

I don't have anything really to add other than "I'm a leaf on the wind."

I thought Serenity was the best movie of '05 (that I saw), but my tastes are known to be both 'eccentric' and voluminous.

Speaking of best movies, does anyone else think '06 was a really down year? Gun to my head, I'd have to say either Little Miss Sunshine or The Prestige.

I haven't seen either, though I do want to see The Prestige. But with movies like The Queen, The Departed, Blood Diamond, and Babel, I'm not sure how you can say 06 was a down year. Lotta good, intelligent movies out there.

I watched the first episode of Firefly ("The Train Job") with my mouth hanging open, repeating occasionally to the friend I was watching it with - "omg, it's cowboys in space, how could anyone have thought this was a good idea?" "omg, they're counting on no one noticing the spaceship hovering over the train?" "omg, no one DID notice the spaceship hovering over the train?" "omg, they're Robbers With Hearts Of Gold, how sweet can you get?" and mostly "I may vomit" (Sheridan Whiteside should have been reviewing).

Yes, it got better. Kind of. Cowboys in space is still never a good idea.

Actually, The Train Job was, I think, the third episode in the series. It was just the first to air, as was referenced above. Fortunately, when we watched it, everything was in order, which made it much less confusing.

I am interested by how many people really liked Serenity, though. I kind of regretted watching it, as a) it seemed to throw out a lot of what had gone before in Firefly and b) the characters weren't nearly so fun to watch.

Cowboys in space is still never a good idea.

!!!

Are we talking merely literal cowboys here, or metaphorical ones, too? Because, I mean, Han Solo . . .

Anyhoo, anyone who hasn't listened to Joss Whedon's commentary on the Serenity DVD yet, do so -- it's illuminating, amusing and heartbreaking in equal parts. And his commentaries on the Firefly discs, esp. the ones with Nathan Fillion, are just briliant.

Thanks for the reminder, Phil. I haven't listened to the commentary on any of the disks yet. I'll wager it adds quite a bit to the enjoyment, especially of the series.

I like Firefly and everything, but the Whedon cult never ever shutting up about it has kind of soured me on--I dunno, not Firefly itself, but just talking about it. It's a cute, clever little series! It's fun! And it only ran one season and one movie and it doesn't have the thematic or intellectual heft BSG has at its best.

(And the cowboys-in-space thing was arguably done better in Cowboy Bebop, another show about space-travelling independence-loving weirdos.)

Han Solo was only a good idea because he was played by Harrison Ford.

I really liked Firefly, never saw Serenity. Still, it didn't sink its hooks into me like Lost did, or Star Trek: TNG or DS9, or The X-Files. Maybe it would have if it had gone on longer. I mean, the first seasons of TNG and DS9 weren't anything special.

As for best new movie I saw this year, I'd go with The Fountain. But there were a lot of movies I probably would've loved I didn't see, such as The Queen.

The Queen, The Departed, Blood Diamond, and Babel

Of those, I've only seen The Departed. The Queen looks interesting, but not for $9. The other two? Well, along with Children of Men, why do I need to watch a movie for hard-edged dystopianism? At least The Descent (also awesome) is somewhat escapist, even though not exactly cheery.

Joss Whedon Rocks.... But babylon 5 is one of my favorite series too.

I really really hate that firefly was cancelled. Lots of idea's and development, and I really liked the characters. The only convention I've ever been too was Serenity 2 in London...

I agree though that the film was less good than the series, mainly because it couldn't do the character developments as well as a tv-serie can.

Lost lost it's appeal to me in the beginning of S2. I *like* arc and it started to feel like they didn't really know where they were going to anymore. I really really hope that BSG won't go that way, but I think it is a risc.

I like Star Trek, great entertainment, but I wouldn't label it *good* even though some episodes are great. In that area I'm looking forward to the Dresden Files in a few weeks. The books are great 'brain snacks', so I hope the series are too. Easy entertainment for tired parents ;)

Apparently, both an Indiana Jones movie and a Star Trek movie are in the works

I know Westerns are supposed to have cheesey theme songs, but the one for Firefly was really bad. Other thann that, I like it a lot. paul and I have a tradition of dinnner together once a week followed by desert, movie, and cigars onn the deck. For the last couple of weeks Firelfy episodes have been our movie.

Anyone thinking about getting into Firefly should watch the "real" pilot instead of the Train Job, which was written almost literally overnight after the Fox execs demanded it.

Surprised no one has mentioned Buffy. Firefly might be better, but Buffy had seven great seasons, each with their own arc, and a lot of great character development. In a lot of ways, it shows that Joss Whedon has the capacity to create characters almost as broad and interesting as those on Babylon-5, with enough time.

The three shows (B5, Firefly, and Buffy) work in some very different ways, but all are among the best TV shows I've ever seen.

And all three really deserve to be watched in order - you'll miss a great deal of the power of the shows just seeing episodes here and there.

Oh, and Serenity was great, though a little disappointing, mostly because it really ought to have been developed slowly over a whole season instead of forced into a 2-hour movie. I don't think it was necessarily untrue to the show - it just had to spend too much time explaining plot elements and suggesting character developments instead of just letting them unfold naturally.

Oh, and cowboys in space is clearly one of the best things ever. I absolutely love that it's a futuristic society that feels realistic. Unlike utopian Star Trek TNG world or the vaguely distopian authoritarianism of B5, the Firefly world is an interesting take on how the rich/poor gap would play itself out given the events.

And I love the theme song.

I watched the first episode of Firefly ("The Train Job") with my mouth hanging open, repeating occasionally to the friend I was watching it with - "omg, it's cowboys in space, how could anyone have thought this was a good idea?"

I thought the exact same thing, except I thought "cowboys in space" what a great idea!

Malcolm was a great character, as striking as Picard/Stewart (Star Trek) and Adama/Olmos (BSG) .... not to mention Malcolm and Inarra had fantastic on screen chemistry.

Watched the series and the movie on hols in October. Wonderful! I too thought 'cowboys in space', great idea.

B5 is far more epic of a show, but this may be owing to having 110 shows in which to develop everything instead of 14-6 (ish?). The first 14-16 episodes of B5 are on their own no where near as good as the firefly season. It also seems to me that in firefly he is telling stories about the people and the over all story gets in there somehow, in B5 he is telling the over all story and the charachters get in there somehow. If that makes any sense at all.

As a side note, all of you trekie B5 haters out there should give it a chance, meaning atleast watch the first season in it's entirety...they take their time getting to know everyone

I think that the first time I laid eyes on Morena Baccarin I became interested in the show.

One question, why do they always utter expletives in Chinese?

BTW, cowboys in space is hardly a new idea. If you haven't seen Outland yet, Sean Connery essentially plays Gary Cooper from High Noon.

I'll take Farscape, Red Dwarf, and Futurama over anything mentioned so far.

I thought B5 was a well written show with some great characters and some that lacked nuance. But it hit far more often than it missed. It's the only one I'd put in my top 5 (which is rounded out by Doctor Who).

I thought Firefly/Serenity felt more like a role-playing game than a TV show. I was entertained, but I didn't think it was great.

BSG just rubs me wrong.

One question, why do they always utter expletives in Chinese?

Because "The Alliance" was the US/Chinese alliance, and the basis of their government -- so the culture was a fusion of Chinese and American influences. And frankly, Chinese is a very satisfying language to curse in -- or so I've been assured by people who speak it.

More practically, because you can't say the American curse equivilant of "Well, someone just slid something undesired into one of my orifaces, no doubt about that!" on broadcast TV.

You can, however, say it as crudely and filthily as you want in Chinese (even badly accented Chinese) because the Powers That Be don't consider obscentities in foreign languages to be obscenities.

I thought the Asian overlay - the swearing, the "Chinatowns" everywhere, the geisha-like Companions - was one of Firefly's best touches. Not only was it a nod to pop-culture, it made demographic and historical sense: if humanity leaves Earth en masse, Asians will comprise a majority of the population then as they do now.

I thought the 19th Century American-style Wild West frontierism a harder sell, logically - but liked it anyway.

Firefly might be better, but Buffy had seven great seasons, each with their own arc, and a lot of great character development.

Six at most, and probably no more than five or four. Those were, however, brilliant.

Oh, and just before Serenity they released little teasing video's about River Tam (viral marketing). They now put those together.

Well, much of this has been said already, but I can't resist throwing in my $0.02:

1. Cowboys in space is *always* a good idea...but usually badly executed.

2. _Buffy_ had about 4 great seasons, even though some of the best episodes were in some of the worst seasons.

3. _The Train Job_ was written *over a weekend* b/c Faux wanted a different pilot episode. It's amazingly good given that fact.

4. BSG is great fun, but it relies too much on the shaky-cam, quick cuts, and especially that disorienting zoom-in-and-out thing. Listen closely to lots of those lines and you come to realize that a lot of quotidian crap can pass for interesting when you add some zooming in and out.

5. Jayne's lines are actually extremely witty. (almost random example: "For psychology that ain't half dumb.")

B5 was a better show as science fiction, though it was hardly hard SF. Firefly's universe falls apart if you think about it for more than ten seconds, but had more amusing dialogue and more endearing characters than most of B5's humans (B5's nonhumans were always the interesting ones).

"Jaynestown" (written by Ben Edlund, creator of The Tick) was the best episode.

The mysterious thing about the Chinese elements in Firefly was why there were so few characters of clear East Asian ethnicity, but that subject seems to be pure flamewar fuel.

I'm glad Matt pointed out the lack of Chinese people in the great Chinese future....

"I'm glad Matt pointed out the lack of Chinese people in the great Chinese future...."

Chinese major characters, which, yes, was an omission. There were plenty of Chinese people on screen, most of the time, though.

I was pleased by that element of Whedon's 'verse, because it's always bugged me at how so much sf, particularly on tv, tended to ignore the fact that the majority of the human race is either Chinese or Indian, and that barring vast holocausts in the future, that will continue to be the case for quite some time to come.

Otherwise, I've blogged (or in the case of B5, said on Usenet back then, including some back-and-forths with JMS) far too many tens of thousands of words, and hundreds of posts, about all three tv series (and plenty of others) under discussion for me to feel enthused about repeating myself again.

In the end, I'm a big fan of neo-BSG, Firefly, Buffy, B5, and also ST: DS9, though I'm also pretty critical of the flaws of Trek, and pretty critical of the derivative nature of B5, though a lot of that reaction is based on far too much contact with ignorant fans of B5 who thought JMS was being creative and inventing new stuff, rather than mining the rich veins of 1940s and '50s written sf for television.

If I wanted to single each out for praise, I might say that B5 was, so far, the best serial space opera tv series yet done, neo-BSG the most realistic tv show in an sf setting yet done (though only barely sf, by virtue of basic premise, and the examination of what it means to be human), Firefly a uniquely Whedonesque take of great humor, emotion, and entertainment, and DS9 the best of the Treks, in terms of character development, serial drama, complexity of plot, and examinations of moral implications of war and other decisions. And Buffy was a terrific use of fantasy as metaphor, plus all the great writing, character development, humor, etc. (I don't dislike any of the seasons, though the 1st was the simplest, of course, and I do understand most of the problems some people had with the last season, or another one.)

And, yeah, "The Train Job" is, in fact, as most folks vaguely familiar with Firefly know, the third episode, written over a weekend in response to Fox's demand for a script by Monday, after they rejected "Serenity, Pt.1" and "Pt. II," the two-hour pilot, for initial broadcast, which was a completely insane decision. "The Train Job" is a fun episode, but a pretty bad choice to see as one's first episode, whereas "Serenity" (not the movie) was -- well, hey, it's almost as if it was made to be the introduction: wacky!

oh, one other thing. B5 has (atleast for the fighters) plausibly reaslistic flight dynamics in space (IE they don't behave like atmospheric craft) I <3 attempts at realistic physics.

Got to throw in the Stargate series in to my top five, if only for longevity.

I've been catching up on Stargate SG-1 on DVD, and I'm quite fond of it; it's excellent popcorn, and good light entertainment.

The other shows all rate more highly, in my book, in the categories of trying to do more serious work, at least at times, and SG-1 (and the first season of Atlantis, all I've seen so far, on DVD) is nothing but light entertainment, but I do like it very much as light entertainment (in fact, I have disc 3 of Season 6 sitting here at present, and I'll start watching Season 9 on DVD when I'm finished with 6, having already seen 7&8).

I wouldn't say that longevity, per se, makes a series notable, though. That piece of sh--, er, badness, Andromeda went on for some years after they fired Robert Hewitt Wolfe and it went to hell, for instance; I'm sure many of us could name a lot of crappy sf tv series that nonetheless managed to last for some years.

That piece of sh--, er, badness, Andromeda went on for some years after they fired Robert Hewitt Wolfe and it went to hell, for instance...

Do not, I beg of you, get me started on that.

I was not the biggest fan of Buffy or angel, but I have become one of Firefly's biggest fans. It just... works. The whole underlying philosophy behind it -- what if the future was just like now -- the characters, the wit, the tautness of it. It all works. Also, Nathan Fillion owns the screen.

The best episode, by the way, was Out of Gas. It's probably some of the finest writing for TV I've ever seen anywhere ever.

Yes, I'm a fan. Sue me, I can bloody justify it!

The annoying thing about Andromeda is that it really had promise in the first year, in Wolfe's hands. It turned to crap when Mr. Muscles, the star, took control, and made the stories completely incoherent, but with lots of explosions.

We could name, however, with some effort, a couple of dozen sf series that were so crappy that almost no one would even think of mentioning them in the same breath as a decent series, and mostly we don't even remember, or notice, them (Cleopatra 2525, for instance [I had to look up the numbers to get them right], even if it did have Gina Torres).

Italics begone!

Crappiest sf series that I still watched religiously: UFO.

"Crappiest sf series that I still watched religiously: UFO."

Gerry Anderson actually did some mildly interesting things at times in his series (which tend to exemplify "sci-fi" over "sf," insofar as the distinction survives), though never with anything that made you think in the least -- but stylistically.

UFO at least had catchy theme music, and amusing styles for the Future People to wear, and style their vehicles with, and so on.

The plots and characters and writing were, ah, nothing to write home about (although Space: 1999 was yet far more ludicrous and eye-rollingly, achingly, bad), but it had some style.

I was quite fond of the original Captain Scarlet when I was 6 years old, myself.

Missed ever seeing Captain Scarlet. In that time frame I was probably more into The Invaders.

Come to think of it, we should probably check out Bush's pinky finger.

"Come to think of it, we should probably check out Bush's pinky finger."

Setting aside that the show was a cheap knock-off of The Fugitive, it would be amusing to watch George W. (and Dick C.) glow on national tv, and disappear.

Both Andromeda and SG-1 are series I watched the first season off because others seemed to like them - and some other series had to grow on me too.
But both series irritate me too much to give S2 a chance...

Odyssey 5 is another worthwile serie that got killed unjustifyably.

For people that are up to date with neo-BSG (otherwise you'll get spoiled), there is a gag reel of S3....

I should probabely say "people who". Gary is back, so I have to be more carefull ;)

"Both Andromeda and SG-1 are series I watched the first season off because others seemed to like them - and some other series had to grow on me too."

SG-1 grew on me, as did the characters. Andromeda grew into a hideous, putrid-smelling, fungus.

I don't think you'll be missing great art if you don't try SG-1 further, although I find it pleasant popcorn, myself (biased somewhat by finding Amanda Tapping as cute as a bug, I admit, but I'm pretty sure that wouldn't change my mind if I thought it was a lousy show; I seriously recommend not wasting a moment further on Andromeda.

Of course, tastes vary, so this advice might be all wrong for you. The appeal of Farscape continues to elude me, for instance. I keep trying it, and every single time I'm just bored bored bored. And I've tried at least a couple of dozen episodes, over varied seasons, though more from the first and early ones. I keep finding the characters boring, the plots boring, the situation uninteresting, the writing boring, and I have serious suspension of disbelief problems. (Tried yet again a couple of hours ago for the first ten minutes of an episode: utterly uninteresting.) Oh, well.

What's S2? Is that a typo or is there some series that I'm not thinking of?

What did people think of Angel? Well one person above didn't like it, but how about the rest? I finally saw most of the series on early morning TV last year--it was witty, as you'd expect from Whedon. On the whole I liked it, though I found Angel's troubled kid a pain in the neck (no pun intended and anyway, he wasn't a vampire himself) until reality was changed and the kid turned out okay.

I thought Andromeda was pure popcorn from the beginning--pleasant enough if there's nothing really good on and you're bored. But it was a while ago and maybe I'm forgetting traces of potential greatness before it turned to fungus. I stopped watching it after the first year or two-- not by choice, it seemed to have disappeared or went to cable or something, I can't remember what, and in my current cabled state I only recently saw an episode that I'd never seen before. And yeah, it was putrid.

"What's S2? Is that a typo or is there some series that I'm not thinking of?"

I assumed the usual nomenclature, as in "Season 2."

I liked Angel quite a far amount; I just liked Buffy a little better; but I like Angel quite well.

Again, the character development, and changes and growth in the characters (redundant, but work with me here) were, like those in Buffy, playing to a strength of Whedon's, I think (on Angel both Wesley's and Cordelia's arcs were pretty strong, I thought; I wasn't particularly wild about the character of Conor, though; it should be unsurprising that nerd characters like Fred appeal to me.

"I thought Andromeda was pure popcorn from the beginning--pleasant enough if there's nothing really good on and you're bored."

As I said, the first season was quite promising. This was when the show runner was the creator, Robert Hewitt Wolfe (the amount taken from Gene Roddenberry amounts to reusing the same name, Dylan Hunt, from Roddenberry's previous tv movies, Genesis II, the remake, Planet Earth, and the, yes, third remake, Strange New World, as well as a couple of equally trivial points).

Wolfe's scenario was originally written for a the new Star Trek series, incidentally (Paramount went with Enterprise, instead); the roots are perfectly clear when one knows this.

Anyway, he was canned by Kevin Sorbo, who held the real power with the producing/distributing company; Sorbo has no clue whatever about sf, or decent writing, but knows scripts that highlight his muscles and characters, and have lots of explosions. And that's about all that was left of the series after the first season, although the actors, who ranged from decent to pretty good, I thought, struggled manfully on. But the show was thereafter never anything other than an ego vehicle for Sorbo, and the conviction that the more explosions and utterly pointless fistfights you have, the more viewers you will have.

Shoulda previewed; "fair amount," and I broke the link to Genesis II.

Randy Paul: One question, why do they always utter expletives in Chinese?

And, according to native Chinese speakers, always mispronounced and hideously inappropriate Chinese?

And, according to native Chinese speakers, always mispronounced and hideously inappropriate Chinese?

I'll field that one.

Because none of the actors (and possibly none of the writers) actually spoke Chinese, so they got basic translations and gave it their best shot without the benefit of any native-Chinese speakers on hand to make sure the lines were properly translated and pronounced.

Andrew: Because none of the actors (and possibly none of the writers) actually spoke Chinese, so they got basic translations and gave it their best shot without the benefit of any native-Chinese speakers on hand to make sure the lines were properly translated and pronounced.

Well, yes, that's obviously why in the direct sense. In the larger sense: if you're going to use Chinese in a TV series, why not expend a little extra money to hire a native Chinese speaker and make sure the lines are appropriately translated and pronounced?

Ans: because you do not quite believe that any native Chinese speakers will be watching the series, or - if they do - that their opinion matters in the slightest.

Buffy was excellent, rising to occasional brilliance. Angel was good, rising to occasional excellence. Firefly (I did watch three or four episodes besides "The Train Job") was... meh.

Ans: because you do not quite believe that any native Chinese speakers will be watching the series, or - if they do - that their opinion matters in the slightest.

Isn't that a logical assessment for a show aimed at a U.S. audience? Do many TV shows make it in China?

I love, love, LOVE Farscape -- but I didn't start watching it until well after it was cancelled, and almost by accident.

It's anarchy in space, and I'm not sure I'd even call it sci-fi most of the time. However, if you'd like a really interesting look at it, try here: Television Without Pity's Farscape Recaps. For a particularly good example, their recap of A Human Reaction is rather good. (So is the episode).

Television Without Pity is, of course, a must-read site for good or bad shows. The level of snark is amazing. :)

Andrew: Isn't that a logical assessment for a show aimed at a U.S. audience?

So there are no native Chinese speakers in the US - or if there are, their opinion can be dismissed as unimportant?

Isn't that a logical assessment for a show aimed at a U.S. audience?

And I have to admit, I'm about as impressed by this argument as I would be by the argument that since most Americans can't tell a bad fake British accent from a real one, it really doesn't matter if a character who is supposedly British on an American TV series is played by an American doing a bad fake British accent...

Well, let's get down to brass tacks, Jes. The only arguments I've ever seen you be impressed by were your own, so the odds were pretty good I wasn't going to get anywhere.

And yes, I'm yanking your chain.

The number of native Chinese speakers, worldwide: 1.1 billion.

Number of people who can tell a fake British accent from a real one: just over 60M.

So, actually, I'd say it mattered more to get the Chinese right than it would to get the British accents right... though I suspect Andrew's right and Whedon was thinking parochially. ("No one'll ever know... hardly anyone speaks Chinese!")

Andrew: The only arguments I've ever seen you be impressed by were your own

Really? I wrote your last post for you?

The Chinese phrases in Firefly. (I blogged this a couple of years ago, natch.)

If Jes were less interested in insulting Joss Whedon (and anyone who doesn't share her aesthetic reaction to Firefly), over a deeply implausible, and pretty offensive, claim ("No one'll ever know... hardly anyone speaks Chinese!"), she might take note that there's no such language as "Chinese," nor any one dialect of Mandarin with a sole pronunciation. In my limited experience, it's not remotely unusual for some Chinese folks to make fun of the accents of other Chinese folks. In, you know, that really callously indifferent-to-Chinese-people place, China.

Damn italics. Mind of their own, I tell you, always trying to escape, and -- dare I say it? -- rule the world!

Okay, stop again.

"And I have to admit, I'm about as impressed by this argument as I would be by the argument that since most Americans can't tell a bad fake British accent from a real one, it really doesn't matter if a character who is supposedly British on an American TV series is played by an American doing a bad fake British accent..."

I'm unclear what the point is here, given the incredible number of immensely bad "American" accents that can be heard (along with some excllent ones) on British tv.

Newsflash: actors in one country don't all do accents from another country well. Film at 11.

As well: tv is made in great haste, and an sf series in particular will never have enough money, and will never lack for flaws that make it discernable from reality. Alert the news media.

"So, actually, I'd say it mattered more to get the Chinese right than it would to get the British accents right..."

Whereas back in the real world, selling British rights will matter to some at least small degree for an American tv program, whereas selling broadcast rights to China was and is, for the time being, an effective impossibility, due to China's media restrictions. (This could change, but it hasn't yet.)

Not that the British rights would likely be anything close to make or break for most any American tv program, Fox network or elsewhere, in most any case, as I understand the economics of it.

But the main point as regards the question of accents is the one I already made, which is that the British do foreign English accents badly -- certainly, at least, American accents -- as much as anyone, so you're on pretty thin ice making this another Example Of How Dreadful Americans Can Be.

In, you know, that really callously indifferent-to-Chinese-people place, China.

I know you meant that ironically, but it's actually kind of true. There's a lot of latent and not-so-latent racism in China, not only directed outwards -- my dad has a funny story about "being Chinese" he might share -- but inwards, too, towards the non-Han peoples of China. In Hong Kong, for example, the Hakka were basically marginalized unto extinction although I think there might be a few villages clinging to life somewhere; some small number incorporated into daily Hong Kong life, the rest mostly fled.

The attitude is actually even worse than that because there's an annoying Chinese habit of describing peoples who lived within the present Chinese borders as "Chinese" and peoples who lived outside the present borders as "non-Chinese" in clear defiance of any meaningful historical analysis, but that too I got secondhand from my dad.

Note: it's actually even more complicated that that, since AFAIK China traditionally wasn't racist, it was culturalist: anyone who followed the forms and mannerisms of the Chinese culture, however defined, would be accorded respect worthy of a Chinese person, while those who failed to were considered barbarous and unworthy. It was the Europeans who gradually convinced the Chinese that the distinction wasn't just cultural, i.e. learned, but racial, i.e. innate.

Ans: because you do not quite believe that any native Chinese speakers will be watching the series, or - if they do - that their opinion matters in the slightest.

Or because you can't find any Chinese speakers whose performance you like for the major characters -- or who you think will be marketable to a Sci-Fi audience -- and you don't worry too much about the Chinese accents and/or pronunciation because a) the characters themselves probably aren't that fluent to begin with or b) the Chinese language has morphed more than the English language or c) this is being made for English broadcast television and hence it's more important that that language be spoken fluently. Or all of the above.

Or alternatively d) you're just trying to a pick a fight. In which case: congratulations! You win a Kewpie doll and a lifetime supply of eh!

Actually I thought Hugh Laurie did a pretty good American accent on House. He may be the exception that proves the rule.

Anarch: Or because you can't find any Chinese speakers whose performance you like for the major characters

Actually, I wasn't even thinking of that: the odds of an American TV series aimed at the "general public" being made with a significant proportion of non-whites as majority characters* were so far out of sight I just didn't consider them.

What I thought of was hiring a native Chinese speaker (Joss Whedon ought to have been able to find at least one in Los Angeles) to advise on what Chinese expletives were appropriate (the native Chinese speakers discussing it said that it sounded like someone who didn't know Chinese at all had picked them out of a dictionary) and, if they could, to find someone who could advise the actors on how to say them as expletives... though I admit that would be more difficult.

Interesting article on Whedon and Chinese, which quotes this interview.
Q: Well that bridge has been burned. In the universe of Serenity, Chinese is spoken, Chinese is a general influence – but there are no Chinese people.

Whedon: It kind of happened that way. We auditioned Asian actors. We auditioned pretty much every race for every role. Including for Simon after we cast River. She looks kind of Asian, and they could be half brother and sister. It was just how it worked out. And then some people have been offended by that, but ultimately the cast is fairly multi-racial and absolutely the people who are supposed to be playing those parts, so what are you going to do?

Q: Is there like a nerdly explanation, like the Chinese superpower is in another part of the solar system?

Whedon: No, I don’t have a fan wank for you there.

Q: Is that what it’s called?

Whedon: Yeah, a fan wank is an explanation for a discrepancy or an unfinished bit – ‘Well, this is because of such and such and such and such,’ when clearly the writers didn’t think of that.

Q: As a Marvel writer shouldn’t you be handing out No-Prizes for that?

Whedon: No, I don’t think you get a No-Prize for noticing there aren’t any Asian people.

Q: But you hand out No-Prizes for explaining it.

Whedon: No-Prizes were really for like catching. Now we’ve gone from No-Prize to fan wank, which I think is part of the beauty of how much nicer people have gotten in this community. We’ve gone from ‘Let’s point out their mistakes,’ to ‘Let’s paper over the cracks.’ Let’s make it so it’s more enjoyable for everybody.

I suspect that it wasn't that he was so oblivious that he didn't hire a native Chinese speaker, he just thought that his wife could be enough of a resource.

Whedon: It kind of happened that way.

Funny how often it just does, isn't it?

this is a great link, if you can click on the stop button before it redirects, or check the Google cache. It is a 7 part interview with Whedon. The script doctor stuff was new to me, though I sure a lot of y'all were already familiar with it.

Actually I thought Hugh Laurie did a pretty good American accent on House. He may be the exception that proves the rule.

I think his performance is fantastic but I've never bought his accent as native American one. [Not "Native American", although I doubt I'd be convinced of that either :)] About the only major non-American celebrity nowadays whose American accent I find really credible is Naomi Watts and even then I can catch her out (usually when she's shouting or speaking loudly, as her 'r's slip out of American rhoticity).* I used to be able to catch American actors out when doing British accents, but I've been surrounded by enough bad British accents in the past few years that I've lost my ear for it and, even more annoying, I can no longer say which English accent goes with which region (except Yorkshire, which is bloody obvious).

Which reminds me, I nearly started a flamewar elsewhere by saying how thankful I was that BSG is allowing Lucy Lawless to speak in her native accent, as I find her performances much more naturalistic when she's not trying to grate out an American accent. This... did not go over well.

* If you count John Barrowman from Doctor Who/Torchwood you can throw him in there too, but since he actually grew up in the US he's at least honorary American.

In the interests of playing Devil's Advocate here, not that I agree with Jes in the larger sense, quite often on commentaries for The Simpsons it's mentioned that the producers go out of their way when having another language spoken on screen to make sure that it's actually translated correctly. In the most recent season, they have two amusing anecdotes about it:

1. In the episode "Das Bus," Otto the bus driver is picked up in the ocean by a Chinese fishing trawler. They had already had the dialogue for the Chinese translated, and were going to record it, when another native Chinese speaker told them, "Oh, most people who work on fishing boats in that part of the world are from [X province or region], and would say this instead of that," so they rewrote it.

2. In the episode "Mountain of Madness," Homer is being guided up a mountain by two Sherpas. They wanted the Sherpa dialogue to be accurate, so they called the people who produced the TV adaptation of Into Thin Air and asked who they used to translate dialogue for their Sherpa characters. They were told, "Um, the what now? We just made it up."

Whedon: It kind of happened that way.

Funny how often it just does, isn't it?

Yes, it's amazing that, in a country where only 9% of the population derives from Asian or Pacific Islander roots, that very few of our actors are members of those ethnic groups. Absolutely staggering.

Meanwhile, Gina Torres is black/Cuban, Nathan Fillion and Jewel Staite are Canadian, Ron Glass is clearly African American, and Morena Baccarin is Brazilian. Clearly Joss Whedon is an America-centric racist asshole.

I'm amazed that people can actually act in a credible accent, though any accent in a performance can't be pure because it has to be understood by those who don't speak it. I also think it is revealing that comedy seems to be easier to do in accent. This isn't to take away anything from Renee Zellweger (Bridget Jones Diary) and Kevin Kline (French Kiss), but I think having a comedic element makes it easier.

A brit who I think does good American accents is Tom Wilkinson, the thing he did with Sissy Spacek (in the bedroom) was just amazing.

Here's my fave Hugh Laurie thing, him presenting at the Emmies

I quite often can't hear the difference between american and english, so I don't have a problem ;)

I really love Farscape, it's in my top 5. I liked Angel, but it was one of the series that needed to grow on me. At first I felt it was just a sort of detective series in a different setting, it lacked obvious arc. And after that it even took in the character I disliked most in Buffy - Wesley. In the end though I felt that one of the examples of Joss' mastership was the growth of Wesley.

Gary; since you seem to hand out nits, could you save a few for Jesurgislac?

Yes, Tom Wilkinson was very impressive in 'In The Bedroom.' I was born in Maine and most of my family still lives there, and he would have fit in with them pretty well.

though any accent in a performance can't be pure because it has to be understood by those who don't speak it.

This... doesn't make any sense to me. Could you explain?

"I know you meant that ironically, but it's actually kind of true."

I'm aware of that; was part of my point.

"Actually I thought Hugh Laurie did a pretty good American accent on House."

His is great (from the limited amount I've heard; my access to the Fox network disappeared a couple of years ago when the local affiliate moved their antenna); there are certainly quite a few British actors who do splendid American actors, which is why I wrote that "some excllent ones" (American accents) are heard from British actors, along with some dreadful ones. (Kenneth Branagh is usually very good, for instance.)

The major error the lesser British actors tend to make is to do just that -- an "American" accent, rather than a Boston accent, a rural Georgian accent, a N'awlins accent: something specific. Instead, we frequently see "American accents" that sound like nothing heard in America, but instead only like some weird thing that only sounds like a Brit who has no grasp of American accents.

I'm 100% sure the reverse is also seen and heard from lesser American actors doing "British" accents, which are no less specific, of course (it's amazing Britain stayed our ally after Dick van Dyke's "Cockney" in Mary Poppins, to point to the most famous awfuly-done American "British" accent). That's back to my point: not all actors are great at accents. Wherever they're from.

Of course, this isn't as useful in demonstrating that Americans Are Particularly Stupid, Self-Centered, and Brutish, but what can do you?

Jes: "Actually, I wasn't even thinking of that: the odds of an American TV series aimed at the 'general public' being made with a significant proportion of non-whites as majority characters* were so far out of sight I just didn't consider them."

Which given the dozens of series on American tv with overwhelmingly non-white casts makes you pretty [pick an adjective; "ignorant" and "belligerent" would seem appropriate ones].

"What I thought of was hiring a native Chinese speaker (Joss Whedon ought to have been able to find at least one in Los Angeles) to advise on what Chinese expletives were appropriate"

Except that the point wasn't to be "appropriate" (none of the characters are "appropriate"), but to pick things to say that were funny.

Jes:

Whedon: It kind of happened that way.

Funny how often it just does, isn't it?

Yes, you're right. You've uncovered that Joss Whedon, typical American, is another indifferent and callous racist. Congratulations!

Anarch:

though any accent in a performance can't be pure because it has to be understood by those who don't speak it.

This... doesn't make any sense to me. Could you explain?

I may be misunderstanding, but I understand the claim to be that if an authentic accent were to be unintelligible to many people unfamiliar with it, you wouldn't be allowed to be that authentic in your accent in many productions, which seems a straightforward enough, if debatable, proposition. (A lot of folks apparently found Brad Pitt's accent in Snatch, a film I've not yet seen, unintelligible.)

"I really love Farscape, it's in my top 5."

This is probably useless, but I'm still trying to understand the appeal: can you tell me what it is I'm supposed to find appealing, or like, or enjoy, about the show?

(Please don't take any disagreement from me as evidence that I'm trying to say that you're in any way "wrong," as I would never say such a thing about personal taste; it's just a matter of subjective reactions, with no objective right or wrong involved.)

an American TV series aimed at the "general public" being made with a significant proportion of non-whites as majority characters

The Wire! Go watch The Wire!

Well, I already knew that thinking Firefly was lousy was one of Fandom's Ten Most Unpopular Opinions, but I'm slightly amazed at the bad reaction to noting that native Chinese speakers found that Joss Whedon's use of Chinese in the series really, really crap.

The Wire! Go watch The Wire!

*looks it up in IMDB*

Yeah, I think I will, if I get half a chance. Sounds good.

"but I'm slightly amazed at the bad reaction to noting that native Chinese speakers found that Joss Whedon's use of Chinese in the series really, really crap."

Here's the explanation: a) you are speaking as if you've surveyed the the majority of native "Chinese" speakers of the world, or at least Britain, and are entitled to speak for them, whereas I kinda doubt you actually even spoke to a mere, oh, 200, or even 30, Mandarin and Cantonese speakers around the world about this; and b) you're being incredibly (but typically) condescending and deeply insulting in blatantly accusing Joss Whedon, his production company, and Americans in general (doubtless with exceptions noted), of being racist, callous, self-centered, indifferent, arrogant, tools and fools.

But why anyone should be bothered amazes you.

(That you don't like Firefly, no one sensible is apt to argue with or care about; taste is taste; that's not relevant, save that you choose to put it forward as if it were, rather than copping to why you're being called on being actually offensive.)

The Wire is the best. Better than BSG, which is saying something. Plus, it's filmed in Baltimore, so every so often I'll be driving to work and there will be a scene from the Wire. (Once, sometime in early 2005, I was driving to work and there was a bunch of people with signs saying: Carcetti for Mayor, and I thought: another campaign? already? And: Carcetti? Then I realized it was the Wire shooting.

This is probably useless, but I'm still trying to understand the appeal: can you tell me what it is I'm supposed to find appealing, or like, or enjoy, about the show?

Because it's almost entirely about characters. Sci-fi is an afterthought.

The story arc is rather elaborate, long, and contains serious character transformations -- close to the level of changes undergone by Mollari and G'Kar in B5.

Some of the characters are insanely fascinating -- the problem is if you watch just an odd episode or two, it's rare to actually see it. (Which is why I suggested reading the TWoP recap of "A Human Reaction" -- the recapper goes into detail about the significance of events that would bypass anyone just tuning in).

I got hooked on the pilot, but the series didn't start moving into excellence until about the back end of the first season.

Just as an example: The relationship between Scorpius, Grayza, Braca, and Sikozu is the weirdest, most bizarre and convuluted set of conflicting loyalties I've ever seen. And those are background characters. It's what goes on when behind the scenes.

"Because it's almost entirely about characters. Sci-fi is an afterthought."

Presuming you're using "sci-fi" is the generally popular sense, these days, of being merely another term for science fiction, rather than the term of art it's been in the sf field for decades, since Forry coined it as another of his zillion horrible puns, and everyone made fun of it, which is to specifically distinguish "really really awful tv and movies that are really bad sf," you're saying I should like it because it's bad science fiction, that the science fiction aspects are an afterthought.

Uh, okay. You do realize I have a long history, going back to 1975, as a professional science fiction editor, right?

"I got hooked on the pilot, but the series didn't start moving into excellence until about the back end of the first season."

That's true of a lot of science fiction tv series, which is why I've given Farscape so many chances. In fact, I'd say that it's not uncommon for sf series to take until late in the second, or even third, season, before they've really established everything clearly and deeply enough for quality to start shining through with any consistency (Firefly and neo-BSG are quite unusual exceptions). It's a structural problem as regards the complexity of decent science fiction, and world-building, and the limitations of serial tv, and it's difficult to overcome; non-sf/fantasy programs that don't have to build a whole new world don't have that problem at all. There tends to be a trade-off in either not being able to spend enough screen time on building a smart, plausible, different world, at the expense of characters and story, in the first season, or not paying much attention to the world-building, and winding up with crap sf.

I'm, to be sure, entirely able to separate what's good science fiction from what's good tv; Babylon 5 was, as I said, 100% derivative -- an utterly hackneyed mess of tropes and cliches from the written sf of the 1930s, '40s, and 50s, but it was good tv, and as a translation of old tropes into tv, an enjoyable, if utterly derivative, synthesis, even if it had not one idea that wasn't decades old in science fiction.

Neo-BSG is even less accurately describable as science fiction, other than by a) setting; and b) the one idea of investigating what it does and does not mean to be human, and if "artificial" life can be human. Beyond those two aspects, there's nothing science fictional about BSG at all.

(It was back in the late Forties and early Fifties that James Blish popularized his "call a rabbit a smeerp" description of how changing names and settings, to space, or the future, doesn't in the least make a story science fiction; the long-running ad campaign of Galaxy, starting in the early Fifties under H. L. Gold, running a sample passage from a Western, and then substituting nonsensical "science fiction" terms, variants of "smeerps" for "rabbits," and using the tag line "You'll Never See It In Galaxy!" was pretty much the death knell, in the field, for the confusion of setting with the examination of genuine ideas and novel situations.)

But, in any case, good characterization is always good, of course. Thanks for your POV.

Uh, okay. You do realize I have a long history, going back to 1975, as a professional science fiction editor, right?

What, pray, does that have to do with the price of food cubes on a commerce planet w.r.t. Morat's comment? I mean, really. The tech elements are secondary to the characters. I'm sure you understood that just fine. No pedigree and claims to authority needed.

I like Farscape because of the characters, and because the aliens are alien, and because the heroes screw up a lot. Characters develop and interact with each other and there are consequences to actions that carry through seasons. Oh yeah, and Scorpius is the best bad guy ever.

Like Cinnabari, I love Farscape because their aliens are subtle and nuanced and alien. They rarely fall into the sad trope of the alien monoculture and they seldom end up being simply humans in makeup. A lot of it isn't apparent from episode to episode (because it's subtle), but over the course of seasons you get to the point where John Crichton himself is alien, which is a good antidote to Star Trek's tendency towards make everyone more human over time.

And if that is not SF, neither is Philip K. Dick.

Farscape is not about science and technology, it's about the ways in which technology and exposure to the alien transforms individuals. It's also about military technology and power and xenophobia.

"What, pray, does that have to do with the price of food cubes on a commerce planet w.r.t. Morat's comment?"

I was attempting to point out that telling me that "Sci-fi is an afterthought" in the series is not a positive for me.

"and because the aliens are alien,"

And that's where it falls down for me, compared to written sf; that might be a crucial point, I suspect; to me, they seem incredibly false and shallow as aliens, and yet the series rests heavily, if not almost entirely, on selling that notion.

That really might be the crucial distinction between my response and that of fans of the show, actually. Y'all find them very alien, and convincingly so; me, I see them as standard these-aren't-aliens, they're-people-with-tics-and-hats.

Mind, I'm not trying to convince you you're wrong; if they work for you, and clearly they do, great! More power to you.

(And the flip side is that attempts to argue me into finding them convincing and interesting as aliens are unlikely to succeed.)

"The tech elements are secondary to the characters."

Minor point: to confuse an essential science fiction nature of a story (or the absence thereof) with a "tech element" is to completely fail to understand what actual science fiction is.

"Farscape is [...] about the ways in which technology and exposure to the alien transforms individuals. It's also about military technology and power and xenophobia."

Those are interesting themes, of course.

Farscape was also remarkably uneven, with some terrific episodes and some cringe-inducing ones. But the production design (and, in particular, the creature effects) are what kept me coming back for more. It also had a pretty wicked sense of humor at times.

I could probably fill several pages with complaints about the series (starting with the main character, who is, in my view, an entirely unneeded audience surrogate -- imagine if Star Wars had featured a fish-out-of-water character transplanted from 20th-century Earth), so it's not like I'm encouraging anyone to rush out and rent the DVD's. But boy, was it gorgeous to look at (when the camerawork wasn't inducing motion sickness, that is).

I agree with morat20 that the characters are fascinating. It also was a serie that didn't really appeal until S2 (yes, that's season ;)). I started loving it from the DVD's, I'm not sure I would have managed from once-a-week tv.

Some people I know cannot see the puppets as real characters and it stops them from liking the series. Others just don't like the 'rhytm'. They feel it is too... too jumpy, too loud, too shrill. Some really like it because it has so many popreferences. Non of that is true for me.

I like the solutions they sometimes come up with (the translater, the toothbrush, etc.). I like how different the characters are and how they still learn to operate as a group. There is a lot of grey in Farscape, and a lot of humor, both of which appeal to me.

B5 and neo-BSG are more accessible formats, I'd expect more people to like those series. They are... I dunno, smoother. Farscape is less smooth, but at least as complicated with the interpersonal relationships and better at the character development. IMHO of course ;)

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