The Joy of Jumping In

diving in

This post was inspired by a podcast I listened to a while back. My Audio Guide to Babylon 5 cohost Shannon Sudderth guested on Random Trek with Scott McNulty. Scott and Shannon were comparing Babylon 5 and Star Trek, and observing that B5 is a commitment. In order to truly appreciate the show and know what’s going on, one must start at the beginning and watch the story unfurl episode-by-episode. You can’t just jump in in the middle and appreciate what’s going on.

But you know what? I don’t think that’s true.

Now wait a second. Before you jump down my throat, know that I fully support the idea of starting from the beginning of a serialized show. It’s the best way to see a property play out the way the creator envisioned it. In fact, I have trouble purposely doing anything different myself. My nerd-brain just does not like it. But honestly, I sometimes think my nerd-brain exerts too much control. What am I missing out on because of it? Possibly a lot.

I’m not just talking about B5 here. This goes for any serialized media.

Shannon and Scott mentioned the soap-opera aspect of B5, and I think that phrase perfectly illustrates my point. You don’t go back to the beginning of a soap opera. My great grandma started listening to The Guiding Light as a radio show back in the 40s.* Can you imagine trying to go back to start at the beginning? It’s a thing you’re simply not meant to do. I suspect the same is true of long-running comic book series, though I have less experience with these.

And when it comes to Babylon 5 in particular, I happen to know jumping in mid-stream works like gangbusters! In B5’s case, it may actually be preferable.** Season 1 does a great job of building the world, but it’s undoubtedly rocky, as they were (understandably) finding their feet.

I discovered the show by accident during season two. My friends Max and Jeff and I got together to watch Star Trek: Deep Space 9 every week. Babylon 5 was on just before that. Eventually we caught enough B5 that we started watching entire episodes. Deep Space 9 night quickly became Babylon 5 night. Would that have happened had we started at the beginning of the series? I very much doubt it. We dipped our toes just as the show’s arc was starting to heat up. That’s what drew us in.

Not only did it draw us in, but it held on tight. All three of us became proper hooked. So much so that as soon as earlier episodes were available (thank you TNT marathons), we did go back and watch from the beginning. I have to say it again: If we’d started from there, I really doubt we’d’ve stuck with it long enough to get hooked.***

B5 is not alone in this. I’ve dived into a few shows mid-series. I never saw an episode of The Good Wife until last year when Twitter scuttlebutt told me Something Huge had happened.° That made me curious, so I jumped in with the earliest episode available On Demand. (It was only a handful of eps back from The Big Thing.) I enjoyed it so much I’m still watching the series. And no, I feel no need to go back and watch the first 4 seasons. The writers did an excellent job of including backstory and flashbacks, so I feel like I’m caught up.

If I had balked at jumping in, I would never have watched The Good Wife. Four seasons before I even got to That Thing everyone was talking about? Nah. Way too daunting. I wouldn’t have committed that heavily just to investigate the buzz.

I’m not saying watching from the beginning is a bad thing. It’s great! But if the need to start at episode 1 will keep you from trying something, think real hard about that. Regardless what your nerd-brain might tell you, it is possible to enjoy something without consuming ALL of it in order–even if it is highly serialized.

A lot of my personal growth in the last few years has dealt with letting go. I’ve made progress, but I’m still working on it. I suspect this blog post is me trying to convince myself as much as any reader. Relaxing my need to rigidly consume media in total and in order is one in a long line of things I can do for myself.

For my brain.

For my life.

For my entertainment!

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*Or possibly 30s!

**Not that I want to dissuade folks from joining us on The Audio Guide to Babylon 5 as we make our way through the whole thing in order. If you’re willing to take it from the top, we’d be happy to have you along! We’re just as happy to have you pop in with whatever episode is current (to us) when you read this post.

***I should point out, I really am a fan of season 1 of B5, but back then I was an impatient, impetuous college student, and I can’t imagine the three of us sitting still for episodes like “Infection” and “TKO” at that time.

°The people I follow are too nice to out-and-out spoil anything, so I just knew Something Had Happened.

Little Women (1933) – Katharine Hepburn Project #1

Little Women 1933

Yes indeed, today marks the first official installment of my Katharine Hepburn project. I’ve started with the earliest of her films available on iTunes, Little Women from 1933. According to IMDb, this is her fourth film and only her second year of film-making. I find it fascinating that she’s already so very “Katharine Hepburn”. Perhaps I shouldn’t be. She’d been acting on Broadway for some time before this, and she won an Academy Award for her previous film, Morning Glory. I suppose it should be no surprise she’d already settled into her personal style.

I reluctantly admit, this fact makes me a bit nervous for the rest of this project. I was emphatically not a fan of her work in Little Women. Her performance as Jo, the tomboy of the March family, is so over-the-top and in-your-face* it kept dragging me out of the movie. In an era of movie-making not known for naturalistic performances, this was even more non-naturalistic than the rest of the cast. I suppose on the bright side, that made Meg, Amy, and Beth seem more realistic in contrast, but it’s a small consolation.

I guess I expected to see something unexpected from her here. I’d only seen her later work, and I assumed in an earlier film she’d be a little more toned town or something. If anything, the opposite is the case. In the films I’ve seen (this one included), her characterization is quite similar. Is this typecasting? Or a lack of range? I hope to come across some performances that break the mold, though I suspect once her style was identified, she was cast to be that character.  But hey, I’m really early in this process, and who knows what I’ll come across as I progress? (Okay, some of you probably know exactly what I’ll come across. But I don’t yet!)

As for the film itself, I don’t think it did her any favors. It was a rather insipid adaptation of a slice-of-life novel. There’s no villain, there’s no conflict, there’s just life happening for a while. Some good things happen. Some not-so-good things happen. I didn’t find myself caring terribly much about any of it. And that’s odd because I can be perfectly happy with that kind of a film (see The Best Years of Our Lives), but this one just didn’t do it for me. That came as a bit of a surprise, as I read an abridged-for-children version of the book Little Women when I was quite young. I was engrossed. It was the first time I’d read anything where a beloved main character died, and it blew my little mind (in a good way). I always meant to read the grown-up version, but somehow I never got around to it. Maybe that’s for the best, as my tastes have clearly changed.

I think perhaps the film focused on the wrong things for my taste. The play Jo performs in the living room is silly (in a mildly-annoying way) and goes on far too long. That screen time could have been better spent developing the characters, who all felt like archetypes more than people.** I didn’t get a good idea how Jo felt about Laurie (or Professor Bhaer or anything else for that matter). All I knew was she chafed at her sedate life and wanted to see the world. There was no more depth than that. Amy was supposed to mature before our eyes, but that didn’t come across as clearly as I’d’ve liked. Meg seemed fairly wooden throughout. (Okay so Beth was wonderful. Any character who carries around a basket full of kittens and offers them to sick friends is alright by me. And Jean Parker’s performance was perfect. I just wanted to give her hugs All The Time.)

I hate that this first post has been so negative, so I’m going to end by focusing on the positive. Beth wasn’t the only thing that made me happy about this film. In fact, the very first moments filled me with warm joy. Technically, that wasn’t the movie itself–it was the RKO logo and its familiar “beep beep beep”. It never fails to make me smile. I think the fact that it’s long gone and such a part of movie history adds to that feeling of weird nostalgia. (Weird because RKO Pictures went under almost two decades before I was born. But I’ve always been particularly susceptible to secondhand nostalgia.)

I also loved the costumes and set design. The sets were both beautiful and authentic. They were based on the real-life home of Louisa May Alcott, the author of the book on which the film is based. The period dresses were lovely. Apparently, Katharine had the costume designers create a dress for her that was similar to one her own grandmother wore in an old tintype. That’s all kinds of sweet. And watching Katharine Hepburn climb out a window (or slide down a banister or sword-fight with fireplace utensils) in a big hoop-skirt was delightful.

Speaking of delightful, while I may not be the biggest fan of Kate’s style, I freely admit there is something about her. The one scene that almost made up for the rest of the film was right after Jo sold her hair. Her response to the family’s reaction was played beautifully. If the rest of the film had had this kind of restraint, I’d’ve had a much different experience watching it. And to be fair, even if she’s over-doing it, when she’s on screen, you can’t take your eyes off her. She’s a natural star, and she sparkles like one.

Despite my feelings about Little Women, I look forward to continuing this project. I want to see more of that sparkle.

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A Note on Availability

As I’ve said, I’ll be renting all the Kate flicks available on iTunes (Canada). Here’s the list of what’s currently available there. This is subject to change if iTunes adds/removes any of these titles:

1933 Little Women
1935 Alice Adams
1938 Bringing Up Baby
1938 Holiday
1940 The Philadelphia Story
1942 Woman of the Year
1948 State of the Union
1949 Adam’s Rib
1951 The African Queen
1952 Pat and Mike
1955 Summertime
1956 The Rainmaker
1957 Desk Set
1959 Suddenly, Last Summer
1967 Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
1968 The Lion in Winter
1969 The Madwoman of Chaillot
1974 That’s Entertainment***
1975 Rooster Cogburn
1981 On Golden Pond
1986 Mrs. Delafield Wants to Marry
1988 Laura Lansing Slept Here
1994 Love Affair

If your favorite Kate film is not in this list, and you really want me to cover it, check out my Amazon.ca Wish List. I’ve added as many of the remaining Katharine Hepburn films as I could find on DVD. They weren’t all there, and some that were are out of print, so they’re stupidly expensive or imports that might be a bit dodgy. But if you’re burning for me to write about One Christmas, her last film (a TV-movie from 1994) then by all means, send it my way. Though remember, I’m going in chronological order, so I won’t be getting to her later films for Quite Some Time.

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*And possibly several other hyphenated phrases.

**And that’s extra-sad, given they’re all based on real people.

***I can find no record of Katharine Hepburn being in That’s Entertainment, so I suspect iTunes is mistaken. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it before, and I don’t remember her appearing in it either. I may watch it anyway, just for fun, but I probably won’t write about it unless Kate suddenly appears.

Cool People Doing Cool Things, Part the Second

It’s been a while, but it’s time for another post about the fantastic folks I know and the terrific things they’re working on. Read on and marvel at the talent and ambition in my circles of friends!


Cool People: The Uncanny Magazine Staff

Yes, I’m well aware Michael and Lynne M. Thomas were first on the list last time, but gosh darn it, they’re still being cool and doing an incredibly cool thing! You can read about them launching Uncanny in my previous CPDCT post. Well I’m here to tell you it’s been a rousing success! Lynne and Michael, along with managing editor Michi Trota, published some truly amazing stories and poetry as well as fascinating interviews and insightful essays about the sci-fi/fantasy community. I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of this effort.

That’s right, I’m helping! I co-produce the Uncanny Magazine Podcast. My co-producer is my talented spouse, Steven Schapansky. I really like working with Steven. We make a great team, and I think we put out a darn good podcast every month. But we don’t do it alone! Michael and Lynne are charming hosts and delightful to work with. I look forward to our on-Skype recording sessions every month. There’s always as much laughter as there is Serious Podcasting.

Plus we’re lucky enough to work with some incredibly skilled readers. Amal El-Mohtar and C.S.E. Cooney bring the stories and poems to life in a way that often makes me shiver. I love every episode, but the one that’s given me the most shivers so far is this one. Do check it out if you get a chance.

As if that isn’t enough, my fabulous Verity! cohost Deb brings us meaningful and substantial interviews with the authors. These are no fluffy puff-pieces! Though she manages to work in a good deal of fun and laughter as well. I always marvel at the amount of research she must do before each one. She asks The Best questions. And her podcast interviews are just the icing on the cake. She also puts together print interviews for the magazine itself!

Yeah, I could go on about how happy I am to be a part of the Space Unicorn Ranger Corps, but instead I’ll talk about one specific thing that’s happening RIGHT NOW!

Cool Thing: Uncanny Magazine Subscription Drive

uncanny_website_banner

That’s right! We’re having a subscription drive for Uncanny through Weightless Books! Continue reading

Happy Birthday Dylan!

Dylan from 2011

Yep, it’s birthday season in the Ensign family! March, April, May, and June were always exciting months as a kid. And then expensive months as we got old enough to buy presents for each other. Regardless, it was always lots of fun.

Today it’s my brother Dylan’s turn. This one’s a little harder to write (in a sappy, emotional way) because my brother and I really suck at keeping in touch. We’re just lazy when it comes to reaching out for contact. That’s not so say we’re not close—quite the contrary. Continue reading

A (Dark) Towering Achievement

the_dark_tower_1_the_gunslinger

I finally did it. I finally finished Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series.*

This is a feat I’ve been trying to accomplish for many years now. That makes it sound like this was an onerous task, but nothing could be further from the truth! I loved it. But it did take me an excessively long time.

I can’t remember when I started reading the first book, The Gunslinger, but it must have been in the late 90s, as I think Wizard and Glass was already out in trade paperback.** My brother, Dylan, urged me to read these great books he’d been reading. I have to admit, I scoffed at first. I think I’d bought into the anti-hype that King was a bit of a hack. I’d read The Stand, but I assumed that was an outlier, a one-off. The rest of his stuff couldn’t possibly be any good. It was all about monsters and horror and clowns and stuff, right? Continue reading

The Katharine Hepburn Project

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Time for another patron-inspired post! …Sort of. The inestimable Mr. Erik Stadnik pledged to me ages ago and gave me three choices for what to write about. One of those was to cover the films of Katharine Hepburn. There’s no way I’m gonna pass up the opportunity to write about a star from my favorite era of filmmaking! So why haven’t I gotten to it yet?

Search me. But because it’s taken me so long (and because the topic is so juicy), I’m gonna do this one differently. Instead of creating a single post about a few of Ms. Hepburn’s films, I’m diving into an altogether bigger project. Continue reading

I’m in Another Book!

You and Who Contact Has Been Made Vol 2

That’s right! When it rains, it pours, apparently, and it’s pouring Doctor Who goodness at the moment. The excitement of seeing my name (and words I wrote!) in print in Companion Piece hasn’t even worn off yet, and here’s another opportunity to experience that thrill.

You and Who: Contact Has Been Made – Volume 2 has just been released. It’s the second volume in a series that looks at Doctor Who story-by-story. I can almost hear you saying “another book about Doctor Who?” Well first of all, I’m not sure there is such a thing as too many books about Doctor Who. There are as many interesting things to be said about the show as there are people to say them. And that is precisely why I’m so thrilled to be a part of this particular book. Continue reading