Writeside.net [payal dhar's cyber den]

Archive for the ‘TV’ Category

Monday to Sunday: What I’m watching these days

23 April 2018
Posted in: Scratchpad, TV | No Comments

Every once in a blue moon, a reader stumbles upon my blog. I was reminded of that fact yesterday, which in turn reminded me how neglected Writer’s Log has been lately. What can I say? I’ve been too busy reading, writing and playing games (I’m so close to finishing Thief, Wolfenstein: The New Order and Mass Effect 3 [Marie, stop narrowing your eyes at me], and Sleeping Dogs and Life Is Strange are not going to play themselves, are they?). The other thing that has me occupied these days is TV serials. Funny, because I don’t have a TV; I do have a projector and an empty wall, though.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere earlier, I’ve been on the lookout for series with (good) stories about women. Turns out, this is exactly the right time to be searching for those. Though I can’t take full credit for the collection listed below, I can certainly share:

Mondays: Vera

This is an ITV series based on Ann Cleeves’ mystery novel series. Vera is all about DCI Vera Stanhope of Northumberland and City Police leading various murder investigations. Played to perfection by Brenda Blethyn, Vera is a straight-talking, no-nonsense police detective. You can count on her to spot things that no one else does and you won’t find anyone who works harder than her. Chances are, her sharp tongue will lash out at you, but you’re equally likely to be taken aback by glimpses of a kind heart. Vera is a maverick and incredibly sharp. She’s arguably one of the best older female characters on TV at the moment. Each episode is 1.5 hours long, so late-night writing on Mondays is a goner these days.

Tuesdays: Collateral

In the quest to devour everything with Nicola Walker in it, I stumbled upon Collateral. This is a four-part BBC drama, a police procedural investigating the killing of a London pizza delivery man. It also has Billie Piper and John Simm (of Doctor Who fame), an added bonus. Just watched the one episode (and loving Nicola Walker [of course]), so let’s see where this one goes.

Wednesdays: Holby City

Another BBC drama, a hospital story based in the fictional city of…you guessed it, Holby. The astounding thing about Holby City is that it’s in its 20th year; not just that, each episode is usually an hour long, and they manage to put out 52 episodes a year!!! So basically, it hasn’t been off air for 20 years. Imagine that. Anyhow, we started watching Holby City for the Serena Campbell and Bernie Wolfe story line — more on that here — but are now fully invested in the non-#Berena characters too. Yes, it helps that Serena is back in the story and Bernie is in the background, but there are plenty of other interesting characters (good, bad and downright ugly). Must say, though Holby City has a host of interesting women: Jac Naylor, Roxanna Macmillan and Frieda Petrenko, off the top of my head. I’m not ashamed to admit that I started watching Holby from series 18, episode 17, when Jemma Redgrave made her first appearance on the show.

Thursdays: Call the Midwife

Another one from the BBC stable (Are you seeing a pattern here? No? Oh well.), based on Jennifer Worth’s memoirs, also titled Call the Midwife. The series, I daresay, is somewhat more interesting and well-rounded than the book itself, expanding from Worth’s recorded experiences, and branching out from her somewhat judgemental (in places) observations coming from her middle-class upbringing. It tells the story of a team of nurses and midwives, some of whom are nuns, based in the poor London neighbourhood of Poplar in the 1950s and 1960s. Rather than just a collection of stories about children being born (and yes, there are a lot of gory birthing scenes with plenty of screaming [makes me wonder what the neighbours think we’re watching]), it depicts a rich tapestry of lives in an impoverished setting in difficult times. CTM touches upon events that are etched in stone in history, such as the thalidomide disaster, the introduction of oral contraceptive pills, immigration after WW II, incest, faith, sexuality, dementia and plenty more. Particularly fascinating is the choice of these women to take up nursing and/or midwifery as careers, and even to become nuns, as a means of gaining independence and living their lives on their own terms. All of this at a time when women were not expected to have careers, and expected to be wives and mothers to the exclusion of all else.

Fridays: Grey’s Anatomy

Since The Fosters finished, Grey’s Anatomy has been the only American series on the agenda for the moment. I’ve been a devotee of Grey’s since it first started 14 years ago, though my faith was shaken after Sandra Oh left the show, and then Sara Ramirez. I even stopped for a season (season 13). However, I was enticed to return to it in season 14, which has shown a remarkable improvement. This is a medical drama about a group of doctors in Seattle’s Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. I suppose I continue to watch to know what’s going to happen to a number of beloved characters, including Meredith Grey, Alex Karev, Miranda Bailey and Richard Webber. I haven’t found myself particularly invested in most of the more recent characters, though there are some interesting story arcs.

Saturdays: Weekly off

Sundays: Casualty

If you’re still reading, then, wow. I won’t keep you much longer. Casualty is what gave birth to Holby City, and is currently airing its 32nd series (each Casualty series has 40 to 45 episodes from what I gather, each episode an hour long). It is based in the Accidents and Emergency Department of the ficitonal Holby City Hospital. I’ve only watched one episode so far (series 32, episode 24, where the irascible Jac Naylor, cardiothoracic consultant from Holby City crosses over to Casualty, but I am absolutely sure I will continue to watch.

And that rounds up my weekly television schedule. This list is always chopping and changing, of course. Sometimes I mix it up a little with a bit of sitcom. The ones that don’t make me want to throw things at my screen are Mom and One Day at a Time.

~PD

~

Older and wiser…again

24 January 2018
Posted in: Books, Gaming, Reviews, Scratchpad, TV, Web design, Writing | No Comments

It’s stock-taking-of-the-year time and the only thing I can think of is, 2017 was the year I discovered Berena!

Well, in the larger scheme of things, the year that just went by was a horrible one. Right-wing bigots continued to be in power, the digital enslavement of Indian citizens went on, the economy remained effed, human beings found new ways to hurt, kill and maim each other…if I go on in this vein, I’m going to have to crawl back into bed and cry myself to sleep. Thus, I’m choosing selfishness, and will look inwards into the tiny confines of my own life for the moment.

From a personal perspective, fortunately, the past year has been pretty decent. There was reading and writing, travel to old and new destinations, the discovery of new TV content, and there was chocolate. Of course, there were troubled times, but one lived to tell the tale, so let’s chalk all that down to life experience.

How did I do on my to-do list from last year? Let’s see:

  1. Writing:Yes Though I didn’t exactly stick to my resolution of finishing a fantasy novel, this was a good year for writing. Also, Hit for a Six came out almost on the dot of the year end, while the US edition of Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean was published in March. A short story of mine was also accepted in Harper’s Flipped anthology. Finally, I submitted two other shorties for anthologies—one a spec fic collection on India in another 70 years, the other a volume on the theme of exams—both of which have been accepted.
  2. Fitness: Yes Late in 2016, I discovered FitnessBlender.com, and rebuilding my fitness regime ensued with great success.
  3. Gaming: Yes Could have gone better, but it wasn’t too bad. A brand new game, Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition is lying in wait for me to inaugurate (early birthday present from Marie). Oh also, a couple of weeks ago, after almost two decades of gaming, I finally managed multiplayer. The grand plans didn’t quite go as anticipated, but still, I’m not hard to please. Sometimes.
  4. Travel: Yes In June 2017, we were invited to the wedding of some friends in Germany. With them, we visited Rathendorf, a village in Saxony; Leipzig; and Mecklenberg, the German “lake district”. On the way back to India, we popped into Prague too.
  5. Website redesign: No Oh, shut up. x-(
  6. Blogging: No Well begun but not even half done. Sigh.
  7. Self-publishing: No To be fair, this was a good year on the writing front and not the right time for self-publishing.

So now on to the list of things I intend to tick off before I turn 43:

  1. Write aforementioned fantasy novel: I wrote a short story in late 2017 that I’m keen to flesh out into a novel. Since the story is already there, I’m hoping this will actually work out pretty quickly. Just the little matter of a publisher saying yes…
  2. Keep up with the fitness regime: Not expecting a problem on that front.
  3. Take up drawing again: Well, yes.
  4. Redo the website: Don’t laugh. I’m really sick of the design.

Check back here in 365 days to see how I did.

~PD

~

No.8 of #52Stories: Why I want you to watch Holby City

13 August 2017
Posted in: 52 stories, Scratchpad, Social issues, TV | 4 Comments

**Note: Here be spoilers.**

52 Stories 2017

#1 Because representation matters

The older I get the less patience I have for stories about men, for men. It doesn’t help that this covers most of TV. This started me on a quest to seek out series featuring women or series that have stories about women (not the same thing). These women had to be well-developed characters, with stories of their own rather than furthering the storylines of their male counterparts. But it was more than that, and the search slowly started changing into a more specific one for better representation. It took me through (in no particular order) Grey’s Anatomy, The Good Wife, Orphan Black, Bad Girls, Scott & Bailey, The Fall, Orange is the New Black, Rizolli and Isles, The Good Fight, Vera, Last Tango in Halifax, Call the Midwife, Mom, The Fosters, Switched at Birth, Grace and Frankie, One Mississipi, Gilmore Girls and many more. Some of them were ordinary, some great and some disappointing (I’m looking at you, Last Tango in Halifax). And then came Holby City where I was compelled to stop awhile. Of course, it is not the end of my quest, but it has been wholly satisfying for a variety of reasons, not least of which was the fact that they seemed to have learnt from the mistakes of their predecessors.

#2 Because it was a good story

Serena Campbell and Bernie WolfeWhat was it with the Serena Campbell and Bernie Wolfe storyline that was so satisfying? Was it the story itself? Brilliant casting? The fact that it was just a romance and not coming-out angst? Maybe because it wasn’t tailored for a male gaze? Or maybe the great acting and fantastic onscreen chemistry between Catherine Russell and Jemma Redgrave did it? Or perhaps just…Jemma Redgrave? Jokes apart, for a drama series, #Berena was a surprisingly nuanced tale. There are many things in Holby City that are ridiculous (such as the fact that nobody ever seems to give notice or that entire departments can shut down in the course of half a day or that patients can look completely recovered about five minutes after life-changing surgery), but somehow with Serena/Bernie they managed to come up with a storyline befitting two middle-aged women with pasts and the inevitable baggage that entails. Serena Campbell, deputy CEO of Holby City Hospital and head of the Acute Admissions Unit, was a long-standing favourite in the Holby universe. Major Berenice Wolfe, acclaimed frontline trauma surgeon, British Army, was brought in as a romantic interest for her. She came in as a patient and later became a co-worker. Then dramatic things happened, including a romance that was “not exactly Mills and Boon”, a personal tragedy and finally a professional one. All part and parcel of being in a drama series.

#3 Because two 51-year-old women kissed in a family-time TV show

It was Holby City that made me fully realize that I had lost patience with simplistic storylines, token diversity and hetero-washing. Hard to say for sure, but it might have been because of the sheer ordinariness of the way Serena Campbell and Bernie Wolfe’s sapphic angst fest was portrayed and how off-the-scale it still was. Though this seems contradictory, the story was both direct as well as subtle. That is to say, they did not shy away from its portrayal, but this was no codified hearts-and-flowers type of romance, nor were there elaborate declarations of love. Yet there was never any doubt what was happening. And instead of going for the stale love-conquers-all route, it went for a more realistic one, where love wasn’t enough, but there was enough of it to let each other go, and yet letting go didn’t mean the end.

In fact, the series got it right right from the beginning. Here were two women in their 50s—and they weren’t “nice women” at all—who decided to support each other rather than be rivals. They became friends and then went on to fall in love. It was a complex and layered relationship that developed on screen via a slow burn now famously on record as having been scripted more by the two actors who played the roles than by the screentwriters. Despite the slow build-up and the understatedness, Holby City‘s exploration of sexuality in this pairing was refreshing. Serena did not stray into the borderline-homophobic “but I’m straight!” path. And equally important, Bernie never apologized for her fluidity, and in her failing marriage her husband was not cast as a homophobe. What upset him was not who his wife of 25 years had had an affair with—”I don’t care—woman, man, enemy of the state”—he was upset she hadn’t told him. Finally, neither Bernie nor Serena were ever looking for a happily-ever-after.

#4 Because nobody died

Queer women are all too used to seeing themselves killed off on television. For decades, gay and bisexual characters have met a series of unfortunate ends, usually in service of moving the plot forward, crushing the spirits of the partners they leave behind, or just making a straight person feel bad.
(From Vox.com/2016/3/25/11302564/lesbian-deaths-television-trope)

A significant proportion of queer women characters only ever get one type of ending—the sort you can’t come back from. This is a subset of a trope called “bury your gays”, and one sees it across media, not just on TV. It’s easy to miss it—we are all conditioned to seeing women and LGBTQ+ characters as more dispensible than straight (white) men—though once it’s pointed out, you can never unsee it. The dead lesbian/LGBTQ+ trope is more common than we think, and the showrunner being female or queer does not make a series immune to it. Examples off the top of my head: Sally Wainwright for Last Tango in Halifax and Russell T. Davies for Torchwood. Of course, this raises the argument that, for the sake of realism, queer women (or men or anyone else) must die too, and surely, in absolute numbers, more straight people die. Well, they do, but the representation is disproportionate in the first place, thus making a disproportionate number of queer characters dying. In the case of Holby City, not only did the creators of #Berena not take the lazy way out by playing the dead lesbian card, they even cocked a snook at it. This is especially significant in light of both actors being scheduled to leave Holby City during the course of their storyline.

#5 Because in her final episode Bernie Wolfe got on a Eurostar to the south of France…

…to join Serena Campbell. And we already know that their happy ending includes Serena coming back to Holby, while Bernie goes to serve in a British Army field hospital in Sudan. Even if you discount the fact that a significant proportion of lesbians in fiction die, how many stories featuring older queer women have even had a happy ending? Not only did Holby City give these two a happily-for-now, they redefined what that meant. It didn’t include a conventional domesticity, but in fact let each partner pursue their individual goals. A mature and realistic end (for now) to a well-thought-out story about friendship, falling in love, getting together, growing apart, letting go and then getting a chance at finding happiness without having to break up or die.

It has certainly helped that both Russell and Redgrave are politically engaged individuals who were aware that by playing lovers on a prime-time medical drama they were creating history because, in the first place, rarely have two middle-aged women been given the space to explore their sexuality in a family-friendly show, and second, older lesbians are more or less invisible in the portrayal of normal, everyday-ness on TV. Unlike some actors who chose to distance themselves from the roles they have played, especially when those roles have been even vaguely unconventional, neither Russell nor Redgrave have done so. They have also come out in support of the #Berena fandom and encouraged them on whether or not the #Berena canon is continued on TV. They have acknowledged the responsiblity of “getting it right” and the role the story they protrayed has played in the real lives of young queer women. “It’s amazing the power of that little box in your sitting room,” said Catherine Russell in an interview at the MCM ComicCon in London about Serena’s story with Bernie. Difficult to argue with that.

~PD
(Image copyright: BBC)

~

|