The West Wing

Ah the ’90’s!

No one can watch everything, and for some reason, I missed watching The West Wing. Until now!

Ben and I were searching for something else to watch on Netflix, like you do, and we usually have 2 or 3 shows going at a time, but they have to fall in different genres or slots.

We have one slot for a scary/ depressing/ intense show, and we have one slot for a more entertaining, lighter, or at least less intense show, something we can watch and still go to sleep after watching. The third slot is usually a Star Trek series.

We recently finished White Collar, and needed something else to fill the not-depressing/scary slot, so we started watching The West Wing.

We’re 8 episodes in, and I love it. We may never finish the last 12 episodes of Star Trek Voyager (I like Voyager, but Season 7 was not its finest. We’re struggling to reach the finish line here).

Writing is hard — I feel you, Sam.

But back to The West Wing — Guys, the walk-and-talk is real. There is so much walking and talking! Such long meandering shots through the office — it’s amazing. Bonus points to the directors and cameramen who set up and executed these shots. And to the cast for executing. 5 points for Gryffindor!

Also, I’m so impressed with all the actors because they have so many lines, so much dialogue to remember. Between The West Wing and Gilmore Girls, I wonder which scripts are longer? I thought no one talked faster than Rory and Lorelai, but Josh, Toby, Sam, and CJ could give them a run for their money. Not to mention President Bartlet’s speeches. Was Aaron Sorkin on a high school debate team?

The first episode just drops you in the middle of the action, trying to catch up, listen to the fast dialogue, and figure out who these people are. I like a smart show that expects something of its audience.

The West Wing GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Political dramas can be tricky to keep interesting (see the Star Wars prequels for what not to do), but this is how you make a political drama interesting (I haven’t seen House of Cards yet either; I know it’s a big thing). The humor, physical motion and clever dialogue keep the viewer engaged (dear Star Wars prequels, sitting on couches and speaking slowly isn’t a great way to help the audience feel that anything is happening).

I’ve also started listening to The West Wing Weekly, an excellent podcast which covers every episode. They’re currently in season 2, so I’ve just given you some listening for the next couple years.

I can see why this show has a loyal fan base, and I’m looking forward to more political shenanigans with the crew. Also, the ’90’s were not a great time for professional women’s fashions, so I’m looking forward to more shoulder pads. Oh yeah.

Netflix Descriptions

Sometimes I wonder who creates the movie and episode descriptions on Netflix.

Netflix-ST-VI-Description

Yes, the caption really says, “To keep the peace, Kirk must dine with Klingons and drink Romulan ale. The Federation said there’d be days like this.”

First reaction: Whaaa?! That’s really what they’re going with here? There’s so much more going on in this movie! This is my favorite Original Series film, and the description makes it sound stupid. Come on, Netflix.

Second reaction: That’s hilarious. …It was a really bad day for Kirk. And non-nerds are probably not in deep enough to see this caption anyway.

Books Read: North and South

This alas, is only the second in my TBR books challenge. But I’ve now read two of the longer books on my list, so that’s good, I guess? I just got more books from the library today, so I’m making more progress!

North & South, by Elizabeth Gaskell

Title & Author:

North & South, by Elizabeth Gaskell (1854-1855).

Summary & Thoughts:

The story primarily follows Margaret Hale, daughter of an ex-vicar who has left his profession, as she adjusts to life in a strange place in Milton, a cotton-mill town.

The family (a father, mother, and grown daughter) has difficulty learning the culture of the place in which they find themselves. As the title suggests (once you realize it’s a 19th century British novel, not an American Civil War novel), a large part of the book is the clash of the Southern sensibilities and slower pace the Hales bring with them when they relocate to Milton in the North; a bustling factory town with a harsher feel yet productive people.

North & South also includes a brooding, Darcy-esque mill owner, Mr. Thornton, who becomes a pupil of Mr. Hale’s, and an admirer of Margaret’s. The narration usually follows Margaret, but occasionally we get Mr. Thornton’s inner thoughts as well, usually when those thoughts are about Margaret.

While the romance is fairly central, there is also a great deal of discussion about factory economics, and the responsibilities of mill owners, who have a great deal of authority. It was more interesting than I anticipated reading the various opinions on the business side of the book. As well as talking to Mr. Thornton about his views on the responsibilities of mill owners, Margaret befriends Nicholas Higgins, a factory worker, and hears his side of the question as a member of the workers’ Union. There are many discussions of how to protect both the interests of the workers and how the owners/managers ought to act as authority figures who ought not abuse their position of power.

The book has a little of a Pride & Prejudice feel, with the brooding rich man and the outspoken, strong-willed heroine without a fortune.

Apparently Gaskell discusses industrialism and economics and politics more in some of her other works, but I thought this book struck a good balance. I’m not sure that I would have read a book on industrial Britain’s economics alone.

Gaskell doesn’t quite have Austen’s style, but the writing was engaging, and some passages are really beautifully well-written. If you like Jane Austen and want something in a similar vein, give Elizabeth Gaskell a try.

There’s also a BBC adaptation which is fairly faithful to the book. Of course, there are a few exceptions, like the last scene taking place in a train station instead of a drawing room. Because, drama? But overall I thought they did a good job of capturing the feel of the book and the main events.

It’s also a change to see Richard Armitage (aka Thorin from The Hobbit) at normal human height (he’s actually rather tall) and Brendon Coyle (aka Mr. Bates from Downton Abbey and Lark Rise to Candleford) play the same part (magical disappearing limp not included).

Tl;dr:

I liked North & South, and if you like Jane Austen, give Elizabeth Gaskell a try. Fewer balls; more discussions of industrial economics.

Also the BBC miniseries is worth a watch. You’ll probably see actors you know because there are only 30 actors in the UK.

Rating:

★ ★ ★ ★

Disney and Brave

On a recent plane ride, I was bumped up to the Economy Comfort section, which meant a little extra cushion on the head rest, a little more of the coveted leg room, and free movies or tv.

Knowing that sound on planes leaves something to be desired, I opted for a lighter movie: Disney’s Brave.

Princess Merida - Disney's Brave

I would give it a solid “meh.” There we’re aspects of it I liked, and aspects that either didn’t work and some things that frustrated me.

Things I liked:

  • the movie wasn’t just about a Princess growing up and automatically falling in love. I appreciate that. Girls can do other things.
  • both parents were alive. Unusual for Disney princesses.
  • the central relationship was the mother-daughter relationship. Since the mother is usually not alive for the story, this was a pleasant change.

Things I didn’t like:

  • the pacing was sometimes a little labored. Maybe it’s that I’m not 8, but I got tired of watching them race around the castle after a few minutes.
  • the 3 little brothers. I think they were supposed to be funny, but again, I’m not 8, so it wasn’t as effective for me.

The main I didn’t like:

  • the portrayal of men

And now, the soapbox:

What really bothered me was thinking the reason Princess Merida didn’t want to get married was that all her options were oafish males who were more interested in hitting each other over the head than…pretty much anything else. I think it’s great to see a story about a girl who isn’t just interested in finding true love, but it would have been more interesting to me to hear her saying, “these guys are nice, but I’m just not interested in them.” In this movie, the guys gave her no reason to be interested in them. In fact, you’re relieved she isn’t settling for the stupid one or the vain one or…the third one. I forget why he was objectionable, but clearly, he didn’t have much going for him.

Even Merida’s father, who loves and cares for his daughter, is a little slow and clueless–all the thinking is done by his wife. He is a giant fighter who is easily distracted by weapons and ready to pick a fight at a moment’s notice. His wife does all the planning and I think the only reason he was made king is that every other male is equally interested in fighting, so his prowess made him a good choice. And his wife probably convinced all the other wives that it would be a good idea.

I know the story was trying to tell girls that other interests matter, and that you should listen to your mother occasionally, but what does this tell boys who sit through this movie with their sisters? I know many men who are intelligent, kind, and not easily provoked into hitting each other over the head (well, maybe if they’re age 3 they might be more prone to hitting; but I’m talking about adults here). By all means, tell us about princesses who find other things to do with their time (and the princesses who get married need to do something once they’ve found a prince), but we do not have to tell those stories at the expense of men.