Adventure Time: geeky, wonderful storytelling

Fiona

Fiona is the gender-flipped Finn. (The books are there because they look good together!)

(Note: If you’re new to Adventure Time and care about spoilers for kids TV, this post is not the one for you.)

I don’t normally blog about TV shows, mostly because I watch hardly any TV these days, aside from Doctor Who. (I used to watch Castle, but the most recent series lost me.) The shows I do see tend to be kids shows, because that is what my seven-year-old is watching.

I got into a discussion with some other parents of kids who are a similar age to my boy about appropriate television, and there seemed to be a consensus that Adventure Time was not appropriate television for pre-teens. The arguments mostly revolved around the violence — the main characters, Finn and Jake, do spend rather a lot of time beating up bad guys, and occasionally said bad guys can be hella creepy and kind of gross.

However, the stories that this strange little cartoon tells are geeky, complex and deal with real-world issues in a fictional way, providing a great opportunity for kids and parents to discuss them. There are gender-flipped episodes (featuring Fiona and Cake rather than Finn and Jake), and so many Dungeons and Dragons-references that this is basically my favourite show too.

Adventure Time is set on Earth, in what I suspect is continental USA, though the land is called “Ooo”. A thousand years ago there was the terrible “mushroom war”, when mutogenic goo was spread across the land and and civilisation as we know it was wiped out.

Finn the Human is one of the only humans in the show. He was raised by his adoptive family, that of Jake the Dog. Finn is a traditional D&D paladin — he is honourable and defends the weak, something that often gets him into trouble. He spends a lot of time trying to find himself and figure out the complexities of love. At one point in the show he struggles with depression, after he meets his real father and discovers said father is an amoral, hardened criminal.

Jake the Dog is Finn’s adoptive brother and best friend. He has “stretchy powers”, meaning he can change into whatever shape he wants. His D&D alignment would be true neutral — he tries to do the right thing because of Finn, but is largely in it for fun. He’s lazy and has a criminal past that Finn doesn’t know about. He has children with his girlfriend, Lady Rainicorn.

Princess Bubblegum is one of the main characters; she is ruler of the Candy Kingdom. She’s a loner, mad scientist and genius, and has a complicated friendship with Marceline the Vampire Queen. (Almost all the kingdoms are ruled by princesses, to the point where, when Bubblegum is temporarily ousted from rule by a pretender calling himself the King of Ooo, he declares himself princess and stars wearing her clothes. Marceline is an exception, but she’s also the only vampire. The Ice King calls himself a king but only rules over penguins.)

The Ice King is the original villain of the show; he likes to kidnap princesses and wants to marry one. However, as we get to know him, we discover he has a tragic past (there’s one particular episode that makes me bawl every time I see it). His overall storyline is a parallel for dementia: he has forgotten who he is and his princess obsession is his subconscious mind’s way of trying to reclaim what he once had.

Lumpy Space Princess is homeless (she lives in the woods, in boxes or hollow logs) and looking for love. Marceline is so old that she struggles with morality, often acting like a selfish teenage girl. BMO, the robot who lives with Finn and Jake, has a vivid imaginary world and is gender fluid (though uses the male pronoun).

Other examples of geekiness include the Prismo wish spell alternate reality plot; discussion of Flame Princess’s alignment (and how acting out of alignment will affect her experience); and a dungeon-crawl episode where Finn gets lost, seeking more and more powerful loot. It’s glorious!

I guess for parents who won’t get the geeky references and would prefer their children experience a more Disney-like world, I can see why Adventure Time wouldn’t be their thing. But I for one love it. ❤

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Newsflash: the Firefly guys were villains

This is a great, well-thought-out post by Melbourne writer Jay Kristoff about the characters of Firefly. He mounts a pretty compelling argument that the crew of Serenity – particularly Mal, Zoe and Jayne – are the villains of the piece, rather than the plucky heroes.

The post is worth a read, because it’s a great example of the idea “every character thinks they are the hero”. Joss Whedon is the master at creating the sympathetic bad guy. The folks in Dollhouse – except for the dolls themselves – are almost all villains too. Not to mention Doctor Horrible!

Jay Kristoff - Literary Giant

firefly-wall-cast1 copy Hello droogs.

So. This started as an idle tweet a few days back and devolved into a drunken conversation in which me and a buddy both proved we’ve spent waaaaaaaay too much time watching Firefly. And I’ll preface this waaaaaaay too long blog post by stressing that I lurrrrrrrve the Firefly series and Serenity movie. I love them in the pants. Were I unwed, I would take my Collector’s Edition Boxed Set in a manly fashion.

…wait, ew.

I genuinely believe Firefly is the best thing Mr Whedon has ever given us, up against some stiff competition. So I don’t want anyone thinking I’m a Whedon hater or this comes from a place of anything but love for the dude’s work. I’m just a nerd who likes to spitball about this stuff. And while, like many of you, I’ve got nothing for lurrrrve for Firefly and the crew of…

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On Martha Jones, unrequited love and female empowerment

The other day I was reading a blog post about Amy Pond, the first companion to the eleventh Doctor in Doctor Who. The blogger’s contention was that although Amy was awesome, in and of herself, the plotlines she was given were awful because they all rotated around Amy as Woman — a love triangle, a marriage, a baby.

I’ve seen this argument made many times and I’m inclined to agree, although I still really enjoyed Amy and Eleven. (Rory was a bit wet, but he grew on me.)

In the comments to this post, the consensus was that the superior companion in the reboot was Donna, because she wasn’t defined by her relationship to the Doctor, unlike Rose (who he fell in love with) and Martha (who fell in love with him). These comments were all written back before Clara and Twelve, so she didn’t factor into the debate.

Now, Donna is far and away my favourite, because of her strength of personality, heart, and the amazing character growth she experiences. Of all the companions, she had the most tragic end to her story. I mean, Rose’s was sad as far as it went, but then she got a clone of Ten to shack up with, and who wouldn’t be happy with that?! Donna lost everything. All that growth. All those experiences. I honestly think she would’ve preferred to die. *sob*

On the other hand, I think Martha deserves a little more credit. She was fiercely intelligent in her own right, stubborn and brave. Sure, she fell in love with Ten, but have you seen David Tennant? Besides, he swept in, saved the day and pashed her in the course of the adventure. My ovaries would have exploded on the spot!

BUT.

Martha didn’t just swan around after the Doctor and sigh. She didn’t pine (unlike Rose). She loved him, but once she realised he was never going to love her, she was independent-minded enough, smart enough, to realise that continuing to be around him was actually bad for her. Because she knew she wanted a partner — which not all women do, I grant you, but she did — and he would never be it.

I found Martha’s departure from Doctor Who to be uplifting, unlike all the others so far. Every time I see that scene, I clap. Because she did it with dignity.

You go, girl!

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Legends of Chima: LEGO fail

Fair warning: I’ve got my ranty pants on today. And my feminist undergarments. They are the same as my regular undergarments, and do include a lacy bra, if you’re wondering.

This week, I picked up the first DVD set containing four or five episodes of the LEGO TV show Legends of Chima. Cool! LEGO animals! My son loves LEGO! How can we go wrong? When we got home from grocery shopping I put it on for him, and we sat down together to watch the first two episodes.

And I was horrified. Not at the rather ham-handed script — although holy infodumps, Batman — or even at the easily drawn drug metaphor between the magic “chi” that only adults can take and that seems to have addictive qualities. What really got under my skin was the gender mix in the TV show.

ChimaThe first episode starts with the main character, a bipedal lion named Leval, going to a coming of age ceremony where all of his tribe is gathered to celebrate him turning into a real warrior and getting to “take” chi. His tribe is all male. You can tell, because they’re lions and there’s not a mane-less head in sight. Where are all the female lions, I think? Weird. A fight breaks out and a bunch of other male LEGO animals attack — crocodiles, ravens and wolves.

Then there’s a flashback, and we see Leval with his friends, only one of whom is female. She’s an eagle named Eris, and although the bio on the Legends of Chima site describes her as not as “airheaded” as the rest of the eagles — who all seem to be male too, so I guess that could’ve been worse — you could’ve fooled me. By the end of the second episode she’s accidentally ended up in the middle of the dueling area on a bike thing that the website tells me is called a “Speedor” (plural: Speedorz; someone save us now!). When one of the baddies charges her, she sits there on her bike, which she suddenly doesn’t seem to know how to start, and squeals until Leval saves her. She doesn’t, you know, fly up and out of the way. With her wings. Which she has.

Even worse, the only other female characters I saw in these two episodes where the mother of Leval’s former friend (said baddie, a crocodile named Cragger), who is overbearing and manipulative, and Cragger’s sister, who is even worse. The sister’s name is Crooler. CROOLER, like “crueler”. Get it? She uses a magical flower thing to induce a blood rage in her brother, and whispers in his ear about how bad the lions are so that he starts a war.

I nearly threw up in my mouth.

The icing on the cake, though, was when I looked inside the cover and saw a flyer for other LEGO TV shows, including a bright pink add for LEGO Friends. I guess that’s the one girls are meant to be watching.

I didn’t really have an opinion when LEGO brought out the Friends range of blocks. I have friends who have little girls and they love playing house; I’m sure other girls do too. I did when I was little. But I also played with the little boy next door’s action figures. My sister and I had She-Ra dolls, and we’d play knights, or cops and robbers. I loved action stories, but I also didn’t want to pretend to be a boy to play them. Even to this day if I’m immersing myself in something like a game, I will choose to play the female character — whether that be Lara Croft or one of the female choices in the Arkham Horror board game.

I thought we’d come a long way. Frozen — with its self-rescuing princesses — gave me a lot of hope. But Legends of Chima made me realise some of us haven’t come as far as others. My son has two favourite shows right now. One is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon from 2003; sure, most of the characters are male but at least April and Karai both kick ass. The other is an Avengers cartoon, which at least has the Wasp in it.

I’d love to see 50/50 representation between females and males in TV shows in general, and kids TV in particular. But, since that might be too much of a shock for some TV execs to handle, can’t we at least make the female characters that are there more than wet blankets who scream and can’t put their damned bike into gear?!

…ok, I’m done.

PS Ok, almost done. I just remembered the one thing that pissed me off in The LEGO Movie. Right at the end, when Wildstyle/Lucy is about to dump Batman, he stops her only to break up with her himself, telling her she should be with a “real hero”. Sure, Lucy and Emmet clearly liked each other. And sure, she was about to break up with Batman for that reason. But did Batman really have to tell the viewer that the hero was entitled to the hot girl? What kind of message does that give little boys? Grr.


Top Ten Tuesday: My Five Favourite TV Shows (and a Confession)

toptentuesday

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday is the top ten favourite movies or television shows. I’ve gone for the latter, although I only have five shows that I really love. I just don’t watch that much television; there are shows I’ve enjoyed that I haven’t managed to keep up on (like True Blood, Dexter or Once Upon a Time), and I figure if I haven’t seen all of a show, or I lost track of it, I must not love it that much.

Of the ones I have, let’s be honest, most of them are by Joss Whedon. (I could have also added Dollhouse to the below, but I decided to stick to my two Joss favourites, instead of three!)

Buffy: the Vampire Slayer. I actually just re-watched some Buffy the other day, because a friend wanted to pull out Once More With Feeling, the musical episode. We ended up seeing a few other episodes from season six as well, which if you’ve seen the entire series you’ll know is the darkest. Some people write off this show as pure teen angst with wrinkly-faced vampires, but it explores some deep issues while still making you care about the characters. For example, season six explores self-harm as a major theme, via Buffy’s relationship with Spike, and looks at rape, misogyny and drugs. Wow.

Buffy Love

Firefly. Another Joss Whedon show, this one ended too soon…although at least we got the follow-on movie, Serenity, to give us a little bit of closure. Firefly is part sci-fi, part western, and has a delightful mix of Chinese and American culture because this future society is a melting pot of the two. Love it. My favourite episodes are the two where you really get to see how dark the lead character, Mal (played by Nathan Fillion), can be. If you’re curious, they are War Stories and Ariel.

Firefly Wash

Doctor Who. The reboot doesn’t have the charm of dodgy special effects that the original did, but what it does have is clever writing. I’ve heard people criticise the later episodes for trying to be too clever but I haven’t felt that way (although I am partway through re-watching season five to see if I can unravel things better the second time around). Some episodes fall a little flat — unfortunately I felt the last Matt Smith episode was one of these — but for the most part this is a great show. My favourite episodes are Midnight and Waters of Mars (both David Tennant episodes).

TennantBrilliant

Castle. I don’t mind the old whodunit cop show (although I lean more toward Law and Order than CSI). I confess I started watching Castle because it had Nathan Fillion in it, but I love the nerdy banter. Clever dialogue wins every time. I don’t really have a favourite episode, although the one where Beckett and Castle finally got together was a highlight, as is any episode where the scriptwriters make a Firefly in-joke.

Did she just say...?

The West Wing. Speaking of clever dialogue… everything I know about US politics I learned from The West Wing. This is probably the cleverest show I’ve ever seen. It’s got an interesting style in that it doesn’t follow the details of the characters’ lives, just dips in and out as they intersect with their jobs. I guess in that way it’s more like a cop show, where you are mostly focused on the job, not the people. My favourite episode is the cliffhanger, from the end of the first season (What Kind of Day Has It Been) to the start of the second (In the Shadow of Two Gunmen). Mostly because of the scene in the hospital, and getting to see a limousine do a handbrake turn on a highway.

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In the title of the blog I promised you a confession, and it’s this: I really, really can’t get into Game of Thrones. I mean, on paper I should love it: an epic fantasy TV series that has ANIMATED DRAGONS IN IT! But I didn’t really like the first book (it was a DNF for me), and when I tried to watch the TV show I didn’t get past the end of the first episode. I wasn’t really okay with them pushing a small boy out a tower window. Yes, I know they’re the bad guys, but that’s NOT THE POINT. It may be because I have a small boy who loves to climb, but I just couldn’t get on board.

What are your favourite TV shows — the ones you’ve seen every episode of?


Imprecise use of pronouns, with Doctor Who!

Have you entered my double Amazon giveaway yet, which I’m running to celebrate my book deal and 1000 Twitter followers? The details are here.

One thing I see a lot at work is people using pronouns imprecisely. There was a great example in pop culture over the weekend with the season finale of Doctor Who, where an imprecise pronoun was actually used as a plot device. I’ll explain below what I mean, so please take this as your spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the episode yet! The spoiler material will be at the bottom of the post, beneath the delicious, delicious picture of David Tennant…

First, what is a pronoun? Here’s a dictionary definition.

Pronoun noun
1.  one of the major form classes, or parts of speech, comprising words used as substitutes for nouns.
2.  any such word, such as I, you, he, she, it, this, who, what, they, us, them.

Basically, it’s a word we use as a substitute for a noun (or a proper noun, like a name), to avoid repeating the noun. Here are a few examples:

Cassandra is writing a post on grammar because she (Cassandra) is a grammar geek.

Cassandra admired the Doctor Who script because it (the script) took advantage of poor grammar.

Where you need to be cautious is where the antecedent (the noun to which the pronoun is referring) is unclear. I find this happens a lot in my writing where there are two people of the same sex acting in a scene. For example:

Leander didn’t like Brad, because he was jealous.

Who is jealous? Brad or Leander? To make it clear, we need to rewrite the sentence.

Jealous, Leander didn’t like Brad.

(Better would be something like “Jealousy drove Leander’s dislike of Brad.”) In this case, the rewrite actually removed the pronoun—which is more elegant than repeating Leander’s name. That won’t always be the case.

Grammar is cool. (Image belongs to BBC; no copyright intended, although perving definitely is.)

Grammar is cool. (Image belongs to BBC; no copyright infringement intended, although perving definitely is.)

Now, what was the example from Doctor Who? It’s this quote, from a madman:

“The Doctor has a secret he will take to the grave. It is discovered.”

Most of the characters assumed (and the viewer was meant to assume) that the “it” was the secret. It’s logical assumption, because secrets are more traditionally discovered than graves. But in this case, the secret was actually secondary; it was the discovery of the grave that was significant. The Doctor and River both realised this as soon as they heard the quote, but they had the advantage of knowing what Trenzalore (the place mentioned in the context of the madman’s quote) was.

I think as writers we can take a lesson from this example. (Note that I added “example” after the pronoun “this” just then, because otherwise there are a lot of things preceding it to which it could have referred.) And the lesson is this one: avoid unclear antecedents for pronouns … unless you’re using it deliberately, as a plot device. Then go nuts.

Or, to paraphrase the English poet Robert Graves, master the rules of grammar before you attempt to bend or break them. :p