Heat Wave

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

I am blaming @essers entirely for this one and the amount of brackets I use…

Last year, Essers wrote a review for Shiny Shelf about season one of Castle, starring Nathan Fillion.

Yes, that one.

So I watched Castle and enjoyed it. It’s not a serious, tough crime show. It’s pretty silly and built on the premise that millionaire crime writer Richard Castle (Fillion) is shadowing NYPD Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) for a new crime novel he’s planning.

Heat Wave
Richard Castle
(Hyperion books, 2010)

Heat is a no-nonsense NYPD detective working a murder case, shadowed by Jamerson Rook, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist.

Yes, they really did write a tie-in novel that is ‘written’ by the character in the show. Season 2 even has a two-parter built around that fact Heat Wave triggers a serial killer trying to get Beckett’s attention as “the real life Nikki Heat”. When one detective starts recounting the plot of the novel, Castle stops them finishing it with the word “spoilers”. Which, as I was about five chapters from the end of the tie-in novel, I’d been shouting at the screen.

This is where reviewing it gets complicated.

If I review it an actual crime novel, I’d say it was not great. The central murder mystery is good, but the writing is pure pulp. It’s workmanlike, the kind of thing that I’ve been tempted to throw out of a train’s window before now. (Did I ever actually review The Da Vinci Code here? It’s enough to know it nearly ended up on a railway embankment near Reading, right?)

But is that part of the meta-fictional games going on here? Is it meant to be a bad airport style novel because that’s what Rick Castle, character in Castle, would write? Is it spoofing millionaire crime writers? Especially given it has endorsements by the likes of James Patterson on it? (He’s in the show too, as a poker buddy of Castle’s.)

Oh, would you look at that. The publisher even maintains the fiction on their website, with an author profile of Richard Castle. He’s right next to Nigella. She’s not fictional, right?

In season two of the TV series, much is made of the sex between Heat and Rook because all the characters take it to indicate something is really happening between Beckett and Castle. They’ve got that whole Moonlighting thing going on…

This is where this book becomes fan service. Not that it’s a bad thing in this case. Shows built on Unresolved Sexual Tension (UST) struggle with the resolution of it. Look at season 4 of Moonlighting. But fans also want some action: there’ll be Castle fanfic (look it up yourself). This tie-in novel gives you a fictional character (Castle) writing a fictionalised version of himself (Rook) having sex with the fictionalised version (Heat) of the fictional character (Beckett). Do I need a diagram? It gives fans the satisfaction of resolving the UST without actually doing it and destroying a selling point of the show.

In short, as a fan of the tv series you will read this book as two layers. When you read about Heat and Rook, you’ll see Beckett and Castle. And it’s impossible to judge the book as anything other than a meta-fictional device. It exists – and all the cross-platform stuff like the author’s page etc exist – to keep fans engaged and amused.

Absolute kudos to Hyperion and Rick Castle’s “beta readers” (who I suspect are the real writers) for creating this.

(Oh, and Firefly fans? There’s a scene at the start of Castle season 2 episode 6 that made me spit out my beer with laughter.)

Yeah, right

Sunday, 25 January 2009

I’m blaming Allyn for this.

Empire Magazine has revealed its list of the 50 Greatest TV Shows EVAH.

1. Bold the shows you watch/used to watch.
2. Italicize the shows you’ve seen at least one episode of.
3. Underline the shows you own on DVD (or VCR tape).
4. Post your answers.

50. Quantum Leap
49. Prison Break
48. Veronica Mars
47. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
46. Sex & The City
45. Farscape
44. Cracker
43. Star Trek
42. Only Fools and Horses
41. Band of Brothers
40. Life on Mars
39. Monty Python
38. Curb Your Enthusiasm
37. Star Trek: The Next Generation
36. Father Ted
35. Alias
34. Frasier
33. CSI Las Vegas
32. Babylon 5
31. Deadwood
30. Dexter
29. ER
28. Fawlty Towers
27. Six Feet Under
26. Red Dwarf
25. Futurama
24. Twin Peaks
23. The Office
22. The Shield
21. Angel
20. Blackadder
19. Scrubs
18. Arrested Development
17. South Park
16. Doctor Who
15. Heroes
14. Firefly
13. Battlestar Galactica
12. Family Guy
11. Seinfeld
10. Spaced
09. The X-Files
08. The Wire
07. Friends
06. 24
05. Lost
04. The West Wing
03. The Sopranos
02. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
01. The Simpsons

Why they don’t call it “lots of cult American shows imported by Channel 4 or BBC2 in the last decade” instead, I don’t know. I mean, I love Buffy, but more than something as impressive and important as Queer as Folk? And this is TV shows, not series, so where’s the variety or reality shows?

The Return of Cult Fiction 1

Saturday, 10 December 2005

This post began life a few weeks ago, got eaten by a blogger gremlin and is now being slowly reconstructed. Due to its crazy and linktastic length, I’ll be doing it in bits…

There’s a godawful advert on tv for the Housework Songs CD. This looks like the worst possible kind of tat designed purely for people to buy it for aunties that they don’t really know. I’d better not get a copy, not least because I am an Great Aunt and therefore want the more Wooster-esque lifestyle. At the very least, a CD of Housewive’s Choice (mp3 link) would cause more potential amusement for me with its kitsch retro perkiness. You can almost imagine cycling along with a wicker basket filled with gingerpop in tuppence return glass bottles and sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper when you hear that theme. Or that advert in which squirrels do the housework. The only possible reason I can imagine for listening to this crummy CD whilst doing the housework is because then you can switch the hoover on and down out Ronan Keating etc. Yes, I have been watching ITV3 too much: it’s the combination of Jeeves & Wooster and bad adverts which gives it away, isn’t it?

My main chores soundtrack CD is The Return of Cult Fiction. I had it on last week and, whilst washing up to Wonder Woman (in her satin tights / fighting for your rights) I thought of Joss Whedon, although thankfully not in satin tights, and his remake of the film. The very next track was Doctor Who and it got me thinking: just how many of the shows whose themes are on this CD have been remade since it was released in 1996?

So…here’s the track listing, with the answers. I really need to start work on a new novel, don’t I? Just to stop me doing stuff like this. There’s 33 tracks in total, so I’m breaking the post down into 3 lots of 11.

  1. The Professionals
    Yes. CI5 : The New Professionals was a very short-lived version in 1999 which contained not one of the original cast. Not even Lewis Collins. The original 70s/80s version can normally be found on Men & Motors.
  2. Enter The Dragon
    No. No-one messes with Bruce Lee. Except for that remake of Fists of Fury but that had Jet Li in it, so that’s OK.
  3. Starksy & Hutch
    Yes. Starsky & Hutch came out as a movie in 2004 and plays up the slash subtext of the original.
  4. Six Million Dollar Man
    Yes. In Development Hell, suggesting they can rebuild him. Rumour has Jim Carrey as Steven Austin.
  5. Charlie’s Angels
    Yes. The Drew Barrymore produced movie version came out in 2000, with a sequel in 2003. Worth it for Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu as Angels, although they don’t recreate the classic Angels in Chains episode. I’m sure they will, eventually.
  6. Wonder Woman
    Yes. Joss Whedon’s next project.
  7. Doctor Who
    Yes. 1996, the year the album came out, was the year of the ill-fated Paul McGannTV movie (which does count), but the 2005 series has become the BBC’s flagship family drama series, with the Christmas Special taking pride of place in the Christmas Day schedules. Oh gods, I’m getting all girlishly excited again. Quick, show me another spoilery picture. Eeep.
  8. Vision On
    No. And Morph is dead. (Yes, I know Morph was from Take Hart, the spin-off from Vision On but still…).
  9. The Two Ronnies
    Yes. The Two Ronnies Sketchbook was made earlier this year, as part of Ronnie Barker’s return to the screen. But now he’s dead as well.
  10. Magnum PI
    Yes. In Development Hell. Rumours suggest George Clooney as the moustache.
  11. Get Smart
    Yes, in a movie. Mel Brooks is apparently involved which means it might be good, though you wonder how well Maxwell Smart will work in a post-Powers cultural world.

more when I get time to find all the links…

What the gorram Dickens?

Sunday, 9 October 2005

As my penchant for Lost continues, and going to see Serenity again caused a Firefly marathon, I started to think about modern television and classic literature. More precisely, I started to compare Joss Whedon to Charles Dickens. Both write long, complex narratives with a clear beginning, middle and end which are released in a serial format. An episode of Firefly is very much like a chapter of Great Expectations. Only with more funny.

A quick google reveals that the process of following a Dickens novel is highly similar to following an entire (American) season.

Most of Dickens’ novels were serialized in 20 monthly installments, or numbers. They were usually bound in green paper, and — after the first two monthly installments of THE PICKWICK PAPERS — always included precisely 32 pages of text, two engraved illustrations, and, usually, 16 pages of advertisements. The final installment of a novel was double size, including more text
— from http://www.pbs.org/wnet/dickens/life_publication.html

This compares rather neatly with the 22 or 24 episodes of a season, even down to having the double episode finale. Of course, Whedon got a bit over-excited towards the end of Buffy and the finales started earlier and earlier into the season until you started to wonder if the entire thing was finale. Lost will obviously be following a similar structure, with season 1 now having moved into the middle part of the story. New Who is running to UK season lengths (13 episodes instead of 22 or 24) but also worked with the drip-feed storyline. A chapter a week, to keep you coming back, but each chapter relatively contained. And, just as Victorian readers paid for their partworks to be bound or bought a subsequent prebound edition to read in one or two sittings, we preorder ourselves the boxsets and have marathon watching sessions.

One of the reasons I started thinking these similarities was because I think Whedon etc are very good serial writers. I dislike the assumption that a film deserves more kudos than a tv series. Whedon really scores when he’s given the time to nuance his characters: the time scale the narrative plays out on really suits him.

There’s a rather interesting essay here about how the serialisation of fiction changes the nature of its creation:

Serialization deconstructs the single author as sole creator, and does so as part of a larger collaborative project within which the serial is framed.

Thus amateur and professional readers of serial fiction are encouraged to speculate about the story and the characters, to project the future, and to offer the writer advice.
When Is a Book Not a Book? Oliver Twist in Context

All of which could apply as equally to the modern tv serial writers as to Dickens, Gaskell and Conan Doyle. There is even Victorian discussion about issues of copyright and of ideas theft (something which ties this back to my own interest in looking at the literary antecedents of modern fanfic and the rise in the idea of copyright at the same time as the industrialisation of Britain – see the odd post in my readingblog):

When a magazine serial becomes popular, it gets copied, imitated, pirated, plagiarized, often before the story has been completed in manuscript, much less in print. Such imitations and anticipations rob the original producers of the story of some of their revenue and some of their options, both for the story and for merchandising the product. Hence Dickens and others were deeply concerned, when Oliver Twist was being published, about passing legislation to strengthen copyright.

It’s one of those horrid clichés people spout that if Dickens were alive today he would be writing soaps. I’m starting to suspect it would be far more likely that he would be convincing networks to give him a 22 part series of his own.

Lost & Confused?

Tuesday, 6 September 2005

I have lots of things to do. I was in the office till 7pm yesterday (and, yes, I’m blogging in a break at work which means I may be doomed). Anyway, despite all that, I am compulsively watching Lost.

I know I really should know better but it’s the kind of oh-so-slightly-wierd American series, shot as if it were a fashion spread in Vogue, that I struggle to resist. A passing fandom, I suspect, rather than a lasting one. But Doctor Who isn’t back till Midwinter (and then only the Christmas Special) and my long-term addiction to Buffy/Angel means I am pyschologically prone to watching series in which the story takes place over the entire season.

I did make the promise to myself of watching Lost as if it were season 1 of Twin Peaks: no video taping so all clues ust be gathered from broadcast watching; no spoilers. I’ve decided to skip the 80% proof home brew vodka we drank one time back in ’91 as that really won’t help. However, when I watched Twin Peaks, I did have the handy discussion groups of a) my flatmates and b) the union bar at art college. Since Séba is not included to talk and I no longer hang out in union bars, the discussion forum I’m using is are you lost? from the Lost UK fan site. This is, obviously, a handy place since it is based on the UK run of the show, not the American one. There are people from the Republic of Ireland (who are ahead by several weeks) but they are lovely about not revealing spoilers.

I’m also having the odd ramble in Pyschboke’s comments.

An’ I don’t give a damn ‘ bout my bad reputation

Sunday, 5 June 2005

C has got me hooked to Freaks and Geeks, rather belatedly. We swapped “cancelled American TV series DVDs”: she has my Firefly set and I have her Freaks and Geeks. Seems like a pretty fair deal.

I spent the first episode trying to work out why Lindsey seemed so familiar until I realised that she’s Sam from ER. I also spent the first episode noticing that Millie showed up in Sunnydale a few years later to became a Slayer.

After that I got more settled in and watched with mildly alarmed fascination and a certain bundle of wry amusement. Yes, it’s set in 1980 and therefore the freaks are bad metal heads – oh, and it’s American – but the rest is totally nailed. Not just the big stuff like the inevitable angst about who said what about whom and whether the cute guy fancies you but the tiny details like the hangouts etc. (I hung out under the stairs at not one but two colleges). We didn’t have the freaks or geeks tags – I suspect goths and nerds would be the closest in Brit slang of the time – but that strange borderland where you’re the smart kid who starts slouching, smoking and lurking was certainly there.

Anyone who’s heard me knows I get annoyed by John Hughes‘s teen films because the freaks end up conforming. Everyone knows Andie should have ended up with Ducky and don’t even get me started on Ally Sheedy… I’m up to the end of episode 7 of Freaks and Geeks so far and the main character has moved further into Freakland whilst her brother rises out of Geekland. I love it.

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