Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Smart People

This will probably be the strangest post ever found on this blog, because it is a radical departure from every sort of post I've written; in another blog, the post wouldn't seem odd at all, but coming from me some readers will check to see if this is really Tao of D&D.  Rest assured, I'll be writing another brief post in about an hour, so try to overlook this one if it is just too weird.

I watch a lot of British Television.  This is partly because the British are willing to let people talk about sex openly, partly because people are allowed to swear and act like human beings, but it is MOSTLY because being smart, blatantly smart, on television is something that is celebrated and encouraged.  People willfully make fun of stupidity, they denegrate behaviour which Americans and Canadians tolerate, and overall there is an attitude that, on the whole, the people who act badly are not those pointing out that there are people in the world who act badly.

There are a number of shows on you tube that can be watched, which are so different from North American television as to be from another world.  These follow a premise that allows the presenters to speak in a non-scripted, witty manner, and to banter among themselves.  Shows like Q.I., You Have Been Watching, Eight out of Ten Cats, News Wipe, Would I Lie to You, Was it Something I Said, The Bubble, TV Heaven Telly Hell, and the Graham Norton Show, where Americans turn up on a program where alcoholic drinking is allowed on camera and even encouraged.  Watch Bill Murray get drunk on this episode as it progresses - after clearly being drunk at the start.  Be warned, however, that Graham Norton is extraordinarily gay and absolutely no one cares.  And, too, I'd like to throw in some radio programs, such as Heresy and The Unbelievable Truth.

Now, I like smart people.  I am a smart person, and sometimes I feel as though I am the only one that exists.  I also like very witty people, and very sarcastic people.  And this is why, for reasons that escape me, I find myself following closely the careers of two utterly remarkable people, neither of whom could be who they are outside of Britain ... namely, Victoria Coren and David Mitchell.  Who, after appearing on various panel shows after 2007, were married on November 17, 2012.

It would be impossible to explain how deeply vicious both individuals are, or how intelligent.  For me, this goes a long way to summing up Mitchell, but it really is only a bit of gathering how fast the man's mind works, which is evident from watching 10 O'clock Live, which features Jimmy Carr, Charlie Brooker and Lauren Laverne as well.

Coren has to be understood partly through episodes like this from Heresy (where she speaks with Mitchell before they got married), her hosting of Only Connect, rants like this and her obsession with poker.

I am fascinated by these two people, and I particularly enjoy the occasional comment they'll make about each other as they appear on various panel shows, where everyone in British Television knows everyone else, and will occasionally tease either him or her.

The motivation for this post, which has nothing whatsoever to do with D&D, is from this excerpt of David Mitchell's biography, David Mitchell: Back Story:

No one in the North American media would ever, ever, be this genuine.  Smart people should only marry smart people.


Daniel Sell said...

Full disclosure first: 1. I'm English. 2. I essentially agree with you.

Let that taint my words however is appropriate.

You might be selling North American media a bit short here. Possibly a touch of "the grass is always greener" maybe? America and Britain have a habit of copying and swapping with each other over time. It used to be, in the 80s and 90s, that they had all the best comedy and we had all the best drama. Then as the 90s closed it turned, Sopranos and the Wire Came out, NA comedians became politicised or crude while the BBC decentralised, losing the kind of resources to produce (decent) drama and its comedians stopped imitating Americans and went back to their 80s self-deprecating, punk-ey roots.

So there's smart people on both sides of the Atlantic, but they're pouring their energy in different directions. American smartness comes in small, expensive bursts of quality drama, whereas the BBC hires witty people and stuffs them in chat and celebrity panel shows all day.

Rambling and blatantly generalising? Certainly, but close enough to the truth I feel.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Well, yes, and I've seen a lot more American television, so I've seen more of the bad from this continent than from England.

The difference, to me, is that having gotten rid of my television 9 years ago, and therefore only seeing content that is streaming, downloaded or otherwise recorded on platforms like youtube, I am straining around to find ANY content to watch most of the time. I frankly thought the Sopranos was mastubatory shit, and the Wire did not turn out to be as good as I'd hoped (having tried to watch it because Charlie Brooker, who hates everything, was amazed he liked it). Apart from the recent Spacey's House of Cards, that was good content mixed with shit that was obviously contrived to be identified with by stupid people . . . I simply haven't seen another show in the last YEAR from America that wasn't about a bunch of people whining endlessly about their situation. Orange is the New Black, the Walking Dead, etc., is all basically the same show: people in a different situation who are unhappy and miserable and oh look, they're worse off than I am.

On the other hand, I wait impatiently for Q.I. to get going again, and for new content from about 20 different shows because I know, at least, I won't be pandered to and the content WON'T sound like the American Government trying to preach to me, "Be happy with your situation, be happy with your situation," repeated ad nauseum.

It isn't necessary AMAZING plot wise, but the British television I choose to watch (dismissing all the shit that is on British TV that I would never, ever watch, like East Enders, etc.) treats me like an ADULT.

Which means, when Graham Norton tells the Norwegian girl on skype to stand up and take her pants down, so that we can all see the tattoo she got on her ass after Robbie signed his name there, NO ONE ACTS AS THOUGH THIS IS WRONG.

Yay Britain.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Robbie Williams, that is. And the girl did. Should have said so.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what you expected out of The Wire to find it lacking... too preachy? Aside from the last season, which was a victory lap more than anything, the show was everything I wanted it to be. I pretty much agree with popular critical sentiment in its being the best thing ever on TV.

Regarding the Brits, I see where you're coming from. The shows are funny, smart, acerbic, irreverent... a nice distraction and a good laugh. If I were headed to the desert island, though, I'd want those Wire seasons.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I don't want to get involved in a long thread about what is great or not great about the Wire. Personally, it suffers from something I have come to think of as "the Lost effect." It is very common in American programming. Resolution? Nope, not yet. Um, okay, waiting . . . resolution? No ... no ,not yet. Okay. Sigh. Waiting. Resolution? Oh for the love of Christ.

Daniel Sell said...

I never particularly liked Sopranos or The Wire, but I thought they had an inherent smell of quality about them. You could tell there were people behind them that cared and had something they wanted to say. There's a lot to be said for sincerity at the very least.

Again, I can't argue with you. I agree with you but am more optimistic maybe. Game of Thrones could only have been made with the kind of money American media is willing to sink into something so risky. There's an environment there that allows a certain breed of spectacular excess that may or may not result in something marvellous. On the other hand, if something is successful then it is never permitted to stop until it commits creative suicide (like Lost and Battlestar Galactica arguably did).

As an aside, you got me thinking about British TV I've particularly enjoyed. You should add Black Books and Green Wing to your viewing lists, they may be obscure enough to have swooped under your radar.

Anonymous said...

I saw exactly two episode of Lost, but I get the reference. I think the Wire's non 3-Act structure worked for what I saw as its intent... a demonstraiton of the show's ultimately cynical worldview. In the end nothing really changed over the show's arc or the arc of a given season. It's a pretty bleak worldview and I think good American television probably suffers more from that then its open ended-ness. It does suffer generally form both, though. Coincidentally, that's also where the Brit dramas I think have a pretty good alternative... the shows tend to last as long as they need to in order to tell the story. Budhet limitations, artistic choice or both I wonder? HBO's True Detective seems to have embraced that structure with each season being a complete story.

Sorry that that got further away from your premise, but the post beget other lines of inquiry. Smart people have this annoying habit of sometimes inspiring other lines of thinking. :)

Lukas said...

That right there is it Alexis.
That's one of the things I hate about a lot of various kinds of media.

I recently abandoned 2 book series due to this and at least 1 video game will never get my money for this reason.

Giordanisti said...

My love for David Mitchell only grows. Thank you for pointing me in Victoria Coren's direction, i'm looking forward to seeing more of her now!