Tag: tv shows

Flash fiction story (?): “Smelling Static”

“Smelling Static,” by Steffan Triplett

Appeared in The Offing, December 13th, 2017

A mere 94 words

A powerful glimpse into a boy’s life. Perhaps a coming of age, even? Wouldn’t have been possible without Degrassi.

Not sure what the title means. Did old-fashioned TV screens smell of static sometimes?


What a Wigleaf is

From an interview with the editor of Wigleaf in The Review Review:

Michael Fischer: Okay, I’ve always wanted to ask you this—at the risk of sounding like an idiot: what’s a “Wigleaf”? What’s the story behind the journal’s name?

Scott Garson: Did you ever see the SNL commercial parody for the conservative investment firm that didn’t get on the internet quickly enough and so was stuck asking people to visit it on the only domain it could eventually secure, http://www.clownpenis.fart? That bit aired in 1999. Wigleaf didn’t launch until early ’08, so you can imagine how much worse things were. And I really wanted a dot-com! So I got in the habit of trying out sounds in my head, just nonsense constructions. At first, I’d usually be like, That doesn’t sound like anything—definitely not our mag. But once I got used to “Wigleaf,” I could imagine other people getting used to it, too. I could imagine it sounding fairly natural.

Fictional essay or possibly short story: “Sgt. Augmento”

“Sgt. Augmento,” by Bruce Sterling

Appeared in Terraform, August 17th, 2016

1959 words

(Spoilers.) I wasn’t expecting this piece to turn into a paean to television—television, of all things!—but it was great.

I’m guessing this is the same Bruce Sterling who wrote some of my favorite kids’ books? Versatile guy.

Flash fiction story: “Praying to the God of Small Chances”

“Praying to the God of Small Chances,” by L Chan

From Arsenika, Issue 1, Spring 2017online here

961 words

A thoughtful and well-written piece. It appears to me that the main character (spoilers) never goes in to see their father, seemingly content with just a glimpse of him—a curious lack of resolution.

I like the knockoff Adventure Time shirt.

On distractions from writing

“I don’t always have the luxury to set aside a couple of hours for writing, so in the past when I did get to set those hours aside, and failed to focus, I could be especially harsh on myself. A real writer wouldn’t get off track like this, I told myself, hoping to guilt myself into focusing. Except when I thought these words, instead of feeling like getting back on track, I just began to feel less like a real writer.

“So I tried a new approach. I went with the distraction. I decided that distraction did not have to be something to beat myself up over. It could be an asset. It could even be a kind of craft tool. After all, the more I let my mind wanderings play out, the more I noticed that most of my thoughts also had to do with narrative: A plot twist in the news. A rejected suitor on The Bachelorette’s desperate attempt to rewrite the story of who he was. If I gave it time, all of my distractions funneled themselves into something like fiction. A part of my mind kept monkeying toward story, even when it was avoiding the story I actually was trying to write. When I let these distractions happen, and didn’t fight them, they often led me back to an interest in narrative, and eventually an interest in my narrative, the story I was trying to tell in the first place.”

—Lee Conell (x)

On Revolutionary Girl Utena’s opening sequence

I think this sequence represents the events of the series as Anthy remembers them: her and Utena coming together and yet being constantly separated.

We see her and Utena together, doing that almost-kiss thing before their hands are torn apart, alternately naked and wearing their dueling outfits. Next we see them in their school clothes, Utena beside a phallic tower and a crowd of boys, Anthy beside a yonic gate and a crowd of girls, their everyday lives apparently separated by gender roles. After that, a pair of cage-like gates part and we see the birdcage-shaped greenhouse in which the two of them stand together, united but perhaps trapped. The lyrics take a bittersweet turn. We’re treated to an unabashedly romantic idyll—something the like of which is never shown onscreen in the series itself—presumably taking place some ordinary day when nothing else was going on. It is interrupted by a transition to the duels.

A montage of duelists. Apocalyptic imagery signals the final duel, revolution. As the arena crumbles, Dios wakes—is this a bittersweet fake-out, with Dios as an empty mirage, or is this a symbol of the awakening of Anthy’s true self?* In another ambiguous moment, we see Anthy and Utena, armor-clad, riding magic horses through the upside-down castle—are they fighting their way towards adulthood and freedom, as the lyrics seem to suggest, or are they trapped in Ohtori’s endless carousel of fairy-tale illusion? The two are torn apart again. Utena falls back and ends up alone.

The end of the opening sequence plays with the idea of an ending in which Anthy vanishes from Utena’s life. Instead, the series shows Anthy constantly, quietly vanishing—denying herself, colluding with Akio—until, ultimately, she is able to imagine Utena waiting for her.

*It’s never made explicit, but I read Dios as largely a projection of Anthy’s own strength and nobility, rather than a lost part of Akio. It seems obvious that Anthy magically imprisoned young Dios’s powers inside herself, and I see no reason to think they were ever his to begin with; perhaps she used witchcraft to make all his good deeds possible. Nor do we see anyone but Anthy behind the Rose Gate. There’s one other hint that Dios is Anthy—when Anthy disguises herself as a boy, her hair looks like Dios’s.

On fan-facilitating modularity

“While Homestuck is not ‘formulaic’ in the sense that we use the term (predictable and dull because it follows a familiar story formula), there is an element of ‘formula’ in its structure, a sort of algorithm that governs things, that I think encourages readers with certain obsessive tendencies.

“This is what I mean. There are four kids who each have a musical talent, a strange guardian, a screenname, a weapon specialty, and unique hobbies. There are twelve trolls who each have Zodiac signs as well as the other traits. There are four ‘agents’ with their own specific traits that recur, and then you have the Felt, who each have a power and a color and … everything is regimented, compartmentalized. Characters are unique, but you can array them on a spreadsheet. The act of ‘prototyping,’ a plot-important action in the story, has its own specific rules that can be codified and numbered. There are processes. On a structural level, there’s a certain fascinating mathematic to it. And to a certain kind of fan, that is appealing on a level that is independent of the comic’s quality.

“Of course, the thing about having these divisions is that you can A) draw divisions (Favorites, and also separately ones you can identify with) and B) cycle through an infinite number of possible romantic permutations … if you’re into that sort of thing, which some fans certainly are.

“Manga and anime might not be like Homestuck in its method of storytelling, but they frequently utilize this sort of calculation. This is why Fruits Basket had its array of calendar animals, and why Death Note had its specific list of rules that drove the machinations of its dual (and dueling) protagonists. Tetsuya Nomura reached the exact same audiences with ‘Organization XIII’ in the Kingdom Hearts series.”

—an essay titled “Homestuck for Dummies” (Wayback page), by Michael Peterson, quoted via this

Another selling point for this type of modularity is that it invites the audience to come up with their own variants. Fans even have names for formula-made self-insertion characters: trollsonas, ponysonas, gemsonas. And even as the formula becomes familiar and ordinary, it still somehow emphasizes the uniqueness and specialness of each individual. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic invites its audience to have their own special-sounding names and colors and symbols. Steven Universe invites its audience to have their own gem names and colors and body types and weapons.

Notably, both those shows focus on female characters. There’s a longstanding tendency in our culture to treat girls’ and women’s fantasies as sillier and less interesting than those of boys and men—self-insert fantasies especially. And it seems like female fantasies tend to revolve more around personal identity and beauty than around actions (whether this tendency is innate or cultural, I will refrain from speculating). So fan-facilitating character modularity is especially welcoming to the female part of the audience. (It’s worth noting that while Homestuck is far from true gender parity, it makes a point of having a 1:1 male:female ratio in most character groups, in keeping with the formula.)

Things I haven’t watched and might want to at some point


  1. Harold and Maude
  2. North by Northwest
  3. Marnie
  4. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
  5. Sorry, Wrong Number
  6. The Thin Man
  7. The Rear Window remake with Christopher Reeves
  8. The Hammer Frankenstein films
  9. The Hound of the Baskervilles with Peter Cushing
  10. District 9
  11. A Clockwork Orange
  12. Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster
  13. Schindler’s List
  14. Howl’s Moving Castle (?—read book)
  15. The Last Unicorn
  16. The Super Mario Bros. movie
  17. The blaxploitation movies of the 1970s
  18. Peeping Tom
  19. Fritz Lang’s M
  20. Return of the Living Dead
  21. Demon Seed (1977)
  22. Shaun of the Dead
  23. Atlantis
  24. The Emperor’s New Groove
  25. Gran Turino
  26. The Road to El Dorado
  27. Godfather II and III
  28. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
  29. The Baby Cart movies
  30. Empire Records
  31. Clerks 2
  32. Nausicaa
  33. Castle in the Sky
  34. The Secret World of Arrietty
  35. Grave of the Fireflies
  36. Sin City
  37. The Nolan Dark Knight films
  38. Little Nemo
  39. Basil the Great Mouse Detective
  40. The Big Lebowski
  41. When Harry Met Sally
  42. Pulp Fiction
  43. Eraserhead
  44. Weird Science
  45. The Brave Little Toaster
  46. Prince of Egypt
  47. Reservoir Dogs
  48. Remains of the Day
  49. Cool Hand Luke
  50. Mad Monster Party?
  51. Dead Poets’ Society
  52. The animated version of The Hobbit
  53. Rambo
  54. Gandahar

TV shows:

  1. House, MD
  2. Orange Is the New Black
  3. The last few episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion
  4. The Evangelion reboot
  5. Adventure Time—So far I like it.
  6. Bob’s Burgers
  7. Gravity Falls —Awesome.
  8. Cowboy Bebop
  9. The Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life”
  10. Star Trek
  11. The last season or so of Red Dwarf
  12. More seasons/movies of Futurama
  13. Rose of Versailles
  14. Father Ted
  15. Twin Peaks
  16. Parks & Recreation
  17. Community
  18. Orphan Black
  19. Hannibal
  20. The Golden Girls
  21. Doctor Who
  22. Ren and Stimpy
  23. Mr. Robot
  24. Murder, She Wrote

Plays and musicals:

  1. Agatha Christie’s The Mouse Trap
  2. The Real Inspector Hound—Liked it.
  3. Cabaret
  4. Company (Sondheim)


  1. A playthrough of Mother (Earthbound Zero)—Not as cool as the second one.

On parallel characters and plots

Some terminological and taxonomical notes:

  • Mirror characters are the same thing as parallel characters.
  • I regard foil characters as a subset of parallel characters. A parallel character always differs in some way from the character they parallel, otherwise they would be identical rather than parallel. A foil is simply a parallel character whose contrasting qualities are more prominent (or more significant) than their like qualities.
  • You could also call them shadow characters, but that sounds like it has a more specific Jungian meaning. Perhaps a shadow character could be a type of foil who represents the qualities that the shadowed character carries only in their subconscious? (And overlapping with the shadow character, there’s the tempter character, who urges another character to act on subconscious or forbidden impulses. Tempters don’t necessarily parallel their victims, though.)

I remember being bewildered when I first grasped the concept of parallel characters and plots. It wasn’t when I read Anna Karenina, which I interpreted, naively though not incorrectly, as having two loosely related plots with one main character each. It wasn’t as a preteen when I read the Baby-Sitters Club books, which followed a rigid A Plot/B Plot formula. The B plot never just ran parallel to the A plot, if memory serves; it always, ultimately, affected it in some explicit way, if only to prompt the main character to self-reflection.

The thing that bewildered me was the show Revolutionary Girl Utena. Minor characters get their own episodes that have no noticeable effect on the main storyline, only mirroring it and echoing its obsessive themes. The choice to spend so much time on side characters would be fairly comprehensible in keyhole fiction like The Baby-Sitters Club, but in a surreal and richly symbolic dream-tale like Utena, it strikes me as a very pure, stark use of the parallel character device.

All this sounds rather naive. Was I an unskilled reader, to be so taken aback by such a simple trick? Am I an unskilled reader now? I suppose what bothered me at the time, and still bothers me a little, is the feeling that this device is unnatural, learned. The “natural” way of reading is to treat each character as an individual, and to expect the connections between characters to be drawn explicitly, either by their interactions or by the narration itself. Looking back, I see I’ve also described parallel characters and plots as having a distancing effect. Again, the “natural” way of reading is to sympathize with a character, and not to see the character as a mere vehicle for themes.

Sherlock’s shoddy worldbuilding, and why it’s a problem

Last time I wrote something about Sherlock (BBC), it was after the second season aired, and I wanted to bitch about how philosophically shallow the writing was. Now that the third season is out, I want to bitch about something far more writerly. (Spoilers follow.)

Sherlock has always played fast and loose with matters of plausibility. If it were primarily a mystery show, that carelessness would make it difficult to enjoy. A good mystery needs to be based on a shared understanding of reality; otherwise, the solution will leave the audience feeling baffled, cheated, or indifferent. Luckily, Sherlock isn’t really about solving puzzles. It’s about adventures and character relationships and Sherlock himself.

When the plot holes get too big to ignore, the writers patch them up with explicit explanations. Sherlock is a great explainer, and a lot of the other characters are either geniuses or competent professionals, so they have enough authority to persuade the audience of almost anything. They do lie sometimes, but their lies are typically telegraphed with acting choices and other obvious clues, and they explain their motives for lying shortly afterwards. So even if we roll their eyes at the more far-fetched plot points, we understand the story we’re being told.

This worked fairly well prior to season three, in which Sherlock’s powers of explanation are undermined. In the premiere, his account of how he faked his death is riddled with the usual implausibilities and inconsistencies—the kinds of things viewers are willing to overlook for the sake of a good story. But for once, Sherlock’s explanation isn’t a good story. It negates the emotional drama of the previous episode (by removing his friends from danger without effort), the attempted character development (by taking away any meaningful motivation he might have had), and the thrill of adventure (by revealing that the Holmes brothers were in control the whole time).

All this presents viewers with a dilemma. If we believe Sherlock the narrator, we can no longer believe in Sherlock the character—or even Sherlock the drama. If we don’t believe him, we’re lost. The episode gives us reasons to doubt what Sherlock says, but doesn’t offer any believable alternatives. Even if I managed to come up with something, my enthusiasm would be marred by having had to hold the narrative at arm’s length. To use a writing workshop expression I loathe, I’ve been “taken out of the story.”

So much for the faked death thing. In the season finale, Sherlock gets even less trustworthy. Mary Watson shoots him, and we get an elaborate sequence in which he nearly bleeds to death, succumbs to shock, flatlines, and somehow restarts his own heart with the power of love or something. Mary seems surprised to learn that her victim survived, and she continues to threaten him. Sherlock later claims that Mary never meant to kill him, only to put him out of commission with a surgically precise bullet. Even as he’s collapsing from the injury, he urges John to trust her. Never before has there been such blatant dissonance between what we’re told and what we’re shown.

Here’s what I think is going on: The dissonance is intentional. Sherlock’s unreliability is part of his character development, the result of his being increasingly distracted and biased and overwhelmed by emotion. In the next season, Mary will be revealed as a major villain. Making Sherlock and John trust her more than we do is a way of heightening the dramatic tension.

But Sherlock just isn’t designed for that kind of storytelling. Prior to this season, we’ve always been able to reconcile what we’re told and what we’re shown, and losing one of them is like suddenly having to balance on one leg. What’s worse is that this dissonance doesn’t just damage the mystery plots. It damages the character plots, which are far more essential to the show.