Disappointments All Around

November 03, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

My enthusiasm for various aspects of pop culture is wearing thin. I don't think it's that I have grown too picky. Instead, it's that the people producing it have gotten lazy, lost their inspiration, succumbed to greed, or some combination of the above. Sad as it is to admit, I find it more enjoyable to rake leaves than subject myself to some of what passes for disposable entertainment.

Let's start with movies, since that's what this site is primarily about. Not every release in 2005 has stunk, but my qualitative assessment is that this has not been a good year. 2004 wasn't good, either, but it was a little better. It's not just that there are no 4-star movies (at least on my scale) out there, but there aren't many films I'm excited about seeing. Too few event movies. Too few movies that make me smile because I'm a critic and get to see them early. Thus far, I can count on one hand the number of pictures I have been psyched to see this year. Most of 2005's films, even the good ones, fall into the category of: maybe I'll wait until it opens - then I don't have to drive so far to see it. Five years ago, such a sentiment was unthinkable. "Weekend movies" were those that I couldn't see at screenings because of conflicts.

I arrived early to a film last weekend (The Weather Man) and was subjected to a barrage of six previews (after the obligatory commercials). After sitting through them, I came to the conclusion that I had no desire to see three of the six, and only a marginal desire to see the other three. Previews are supposed to turn potential viewers on, not off. Life's too short to sit through one bad movie after another, even when thousands of people are waiting for a review.

On to books... Lately, I have been immersing myself in biographies because I have been unimpressed by what can be found on the fiction shelf. But late October through late November looked like a good time. First, there was the latest from Robert Jordan, followed by the next installment in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, then capped off by P.D. James' The Lighthouse. Sadly, things have not started well. I'm still optimistic about the Martin and James novels, but Jordan's Knife of Dreams is slow going. (I'm only part-way through it at this time.) Maybe the previous, dreadful chapter of the saga killed my enthusiasm for Jordan's world, but the spark isn't there any more. I'm reading more out of a sense of obligation than out of a sense of wonder of excitement.

There are too many characters, and this has contributed to the story bogging down to the point of stagnance. In the beginning, Jordan wisely limited his scope to a handful of protagonists but, with each new volume, he has introduced more people. Now, there are so many individuals to keep up with that no one gets enough time or action. More and more, I find myself skimming chapters rather than reading them. It's sad, because I used to look forward to each new book with anticipation.

Finally, there's TV. At one time not too long ago, I was watching three or four shows on a regular basis. Now I'm down to zero. (I probably should have made more of an effort to get "into" Veronica Mars over the summer - that way I'd have something weekly to anticipate.) Battlestar Galactica is on a between-seasons hiatus. (The same is true of Doctor Who, although that's not available on TV in the United States unless you live near the Canadian border - or have friends/family in that area.) 24 has yet to return to our screens with new, more mind-boggling examples of contrivance. (Yeah, as silly as it can be, I still enjoy it.)

I started watching HBO's Rome, but tuned out after six or seven episodes. I was under the mistaken impression that this was going to be a dramatization of historical events. Instead, it has turned into a soap opera with two fictional characters taking center stage. Why concentrate on figures like Caesar and Marc Anthony when you can focus on two made-up soldiers? The show has a pair of saving graces: Max Pirkis, whose Octavian is a delight, and plenty of nudity. Alas, not even Pirkis and an army of breasts could encourage me to give up an hour of my Sunday nights.

House is one of those shows that's great as long as it doesn't get overexposed. But the plots are too similar and familiar - after a while, it becomes tiring to watch. Hugh Laurie is terrific, and he's the reason I still tune in if I'm around. But House is no longer "appointment TV," and I don't bother to program the DVR. Since I usually have a movie screening on Tuesday nights, that means I'm not spending much time at home with House.

Then there's Lost, which almost lost me as a viewer at the end of last season, then succeeded in throttling my remaining interest five episodes into this one. I watched the first five hours, sleeping through about 30% of the material, then gave up. Lost is great at making viewers think something is happening, when all that's really going on is that the characters are spinning their wheels. Call me back to the TV when something starts happening. This is the kind of show that can quickly go from tantalizing to tedious. Unless the writers start doing things with the characters, all but the most loyal viewers are going to lose interest. Remember Twin Peaks?