Breaking Bad (2008 – 2013)

"It's Heisenberg" "You're goddamn right!"

When you’re the one person amongst a group of others who hasn’t taken part in something the larger group has, there are two natural responses: either go out and get on board, or move swiftly into defiance and determination to never engage with it.

I did this with Game of Thrones, having watched the first episode and not really gotten involved too much, while everyone else became slaves to the cult. When my Facebook news feed exploded in anguish one night over something called a “red wedding” I sat back smugly enjoying my torment-free night while those around me appeared to crumble.

Then of course, I ended up drinking the kool-aid and responded with similar shock to a woman getting stabbed in the baby and now consider myself one of the hordes eagerly awaiting season four.

Breaking Bad was much the same, only to a relentless degree. Whereas the ardent fans of Game of Thrones could admit that maybe the show wasn’t to everyone’s taste, it seems the Breaking Bad-ites considered it an evangelical rite of passage to get you on board. No one had a mild word to say about it. It was either the best television show ever made, or they hadn’t seen it either.

Truth be told, my reticence with Breaking Bad came about simply by not having got on board during its first few seasons and growing more aware of the fact that I would need to devote time to it, and time is not something I have a lot of in amidst my busy schedule of work and lazing around at home.

I had seen the pilot – it hadn’t sucked me in immediately, but I also knew that most premium dramas require a few episodes to get on board. Had I not been sick off school for a few days with little else unwatched in my DVD collection, I doubt I’d have ever become a fan of Rome, but with a couch-restricted ability to move in my ill health I mainlined the first season in two days. Though I wasn’t immediately sucked in with Breaking Bad, I knew it had potential – I promised myself I’d return to it someday. For many of my friends, this was not adequate, and it was impressed upon me at every turn that I was living a ghost of a life without experiences of Breaking Bad occupying suitable space in my mind.

Clearly, I watched it. I knew what a mistake I’d made by holding out for so long on Game of Thrones and with the relentlessly enthusiastic urging of my friends to also see it, I made the effort to get through at least the first season. And I quickly got on board with the rest of them, and now I can begrudgingly say that, yes, it’s one of the best television shows ever made.

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Perhaps the greatest strength of Breaking Bad is its consistency and devotion to quality. Over the course of five seasons and 62 episodes, there’s barely an episode that wastes a moment of time. More strikingly, over the course of 62 episodes, everything is maintained, by which I mean that the story builds and progresses over the course of the show, not just jumping from season-arc to season-arc. That’s not to say it’s a show that only has one story to tell, but it’s rare to see a series introduce something in its first season and carry it all the way through to the end.

Characters are built up over the series and events that affect them at one point actually make a continuing impression on them as the show plays out – there’s no status quo that gets reset week-to-week (which is common even in some of my favourite series) and the writing is (almost) always able to tailor the plotlines in such a way that they’re believable while still holding enough of that audience-appeal gold.

The basic concept of the story is nothing new – Walter White’s life-changing cancer diagnosis is cut from the same cloth as Lester Burnham meeting his daughter’s hot cheerleader friend. The difference is in the execution, and Breaking Bad is perhaps the best testament in recent television history to showing that you don’t need to always be doing something new and original, just as long as the stuff you’re doing that’s been done before is done well.

Bryan Cranston is every bit as good as everyone has said he is as Walter White. It’s a performance that almost faultlessly hits the mark at every occasion, and as much as hyperbole can reign supreme, it’s one of the best pieces of acting out there. The duality of terminal-Dad Walter White and druglord-genius Heisenberg could easily have been a two-note performance where one is called on when the other’s not needed, but Cranston switches between the two like a chameleon, making you fully believe that these radically different people both inhabit the same man.

Aaron Paul is as equally good as Jesse Pinkman. Though given less to do in terms of growing as a character (Jesse does go on a definite progression over the course of the series, but he’s also the most self-realised of all of the characters, even though he’d never know it) Paul throws himself into the role with a ferocity that makes Jesse one of the most sympathetic characters in the show, and definitely the shining-example of the show’s major theme that “the things you do affect others.”

Now I say the following fully aware that it might be interpreted as going against the status quo for the sake of it, but hear me out: I liked Skyler White. Anna Gunn was given the unenviable task of playing the voice-of-reason to a character who’s celebrated for his notorious badassery. I don’t think any of the hate that I’ve seen poured on Skyler (and sadly on Gunn herself) is particularly deserved; in the universe of the show, she’s married to a man who’s making a dangerous and criminal living off the manufacture of a drug that destroys people’s lives. Her natural response would (and should!) be to ensure her own safety and the safety of her children – but do a quick meme-search on Breaking Bad and you’ll see thousands of images depicting her as the worst of humanity for doing this. How dare she be an independent woman!

The supporting cast are all superb as well, but to list them all would be to make this review gargantuan. I particularly liked that Walt Jr. was written as a character who had a disability, but that his cerebral palsy informed as much about his character as it would have if they’d written him as being on the basketball team: present as an aspect, but not the sole defining trait. I liked that Hank was able to be rewritten from the show’s gregarious comic-relief into something of a tragicomic anti-hero as the series went on. I liked that Gustavo Fring was one of the most ruthless and lethal characters who has this massive aura of menace surrounding him, but that it’s also most accurate to describe him as prim and proper.

The direction over the series also varies from the great to the amazing, and it was a nice surprise to see how versatile the series could be when, by all my first impressions, it could have easily become Suburban Gangsters: The Criminal Career of Walter White. But the strongest element of this show, above it’s spectacular performances, fantastic direction, astoundingly well-chosen soundtrack and excellent style, is its writing. The show never resorts to clichés, though it does resort to tropes. But tropes are tools, and in this case, the writers used them to build one hell of a great series.

Season Four is easily the show’s strongest, and it’s a perfect example of how the writing in the show works as its greatest strength. I won’t spoil the details, but as each plot thread is gathered and woven over the course of the first ten episodes, they all come thundering into connection in ‘Crawlspace’ which executes one of the most thrilling final acts of any story I have ever seen – as everything falls apart and Walter seems at the very centre of it all, he snaps in a moment of unhinged mayhem, leading to a final scene that left me breathless and aching for the next episode. It couldn’t have done this if everything hadn’t been so precisely set up by the writers (or maybe it wasn’t precise – maybe it was just excellent luck and they pulled it off, but even so, what luck!) and pulled off with such expertise that the final two episodes of that series ride on almost solely from that final sequence.

Breaking Bad is not a show I was actively set against, but I didn’t expect to be won over by it as much as I was. I expected to feel the whip of hype-backlash and not appreciate it to anywhere near the same degree that my friends had. I was wrong.

By now you’ve probably heard enough about it to make up your own mind as to whether or not it’s your cup of tea. If you’re on the fence though, I’d urge you to give it a chance, because – much as you’re probably sick of hearing this – it’s one of the best TV shows out there.

Kids, Queers, and Adventure Time

Adventure Time

Adventure Time is a great many things to a great many people. It’s a bright and colourful cartoon series that operates with the prime directive of being great fun and full of adventures, and has amassed a huge following in both kids and older audiences alike.

It’s ostensibly the exploits of Jake the Dog and Finn the Human as they travel around the land of Ooo, a hyperactive fantasy land built on the tropes of pretty much all fantasy and adventure stories, combined with modern influences of geek culture and playful surrealism. It’s weird as hell but not in a way to alienate its audience.

Although it’s largely targeted as a kids show, it’s not patronising or condescending to its viewers like so many shows that use the “it’s just for kids” excuse to phone in some colour and movement. This has allowed it to find a place with many older audiences who can enjoy the show for its surprising amount of thematic depth as well as its playful, wacky characters and incredibly fun storylines.

As an example, many of the storylines take place in the Candy Kingdom, which, as the name suggests, is a kingdom made entirely of candy, and inhabited by anthropomorphic sweets and lollies. Sounds cute and playful? It’s built on top of the post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland that came about as a result of a devastating war – there’s a reason that Finn is (possibly) the last human on earth.

In another, one of the shows recurring villains, the Ice King, whose main activities revolve around kidnapping as many princesses as possible so that someday he’ll marry one, is revealed to be a tragic figure who’s been driven completely insane by his crown, which has robbed him of all his former personality but leaves behind echoes of his past self that he can’t communicate properly in his crazed state.

This isn’t to say that the show is a bait-and-switch exercise in drawing people in with fun and adventure before depressing the hell out of them, just that there’s a lot more to the show than its happy visuals and hyperactive style.

Adventure TIme

One area this extends to is the treatment of two prominent supporting figures: Princess Bubblegum and Marceline the Vampire Queen. Bubblegum is the ruler of the Candy Kingdom who’s also a devoted scientist, and the object of Finn’s adolescent affections for much of the show’s run. Marceline on the other hand is a cool rock-chick who also happens to be a badass vampire (her royalty as the Vampire Queen has yet to be delved into, although her father is essentially Satan).

The first episode featuring the two characters sharing screentime shows them regarding each other with animosity, and they clearly enjoy bickering and getting under each other’s skin. The episode makes it clear that the two clearly knew each other well and experienced a lot of time together before Finn came along (he’s 12 at the start of the series, and the show makes it clear that the land of Ooo was just as wild and adventurous before he came along).

Their relationship was delved into further in the Season 3 episode What Was Missing, which features the monster-of-the-week stealing several items of sentimental value from the characters. Finn, Jake, Marceline, Princess Bubblegum and sentient-video-game-console BMO (“Beemo”) converge on the giant door behind which the door-lord has sealed himself, and attempt to get it open; the only thing that unlocks it is a “song from a genuine band.” (Jake helps the band by playing the role of the jerk in the band, because it’s a very important part).

Marceline first gives it a shot, singing a lyrically-dissonant song with lines about burying someone in the ground and drinking the red from someone’s face (Marceline doesn’t drink blood – just the colour red out of various items). Bubblegum objects to the song calling it distasteful, which spurns Marceline into singing an impassioned rock song about her own ability to measure up to Bubblegum’s high expectations, and questioning why she wants to – the realisation of her musical-honesty makes her falter, and the song fails to open the door.

Bubblegum attempts a song as well, but completely messes it up by trying to take too much of a scientific approach, which sounds disastrous, although the scene gives one of the episode’s best gags:

Bubblegum: Marceline, begin playing triplet quavers in the mixolydian mode.
Marceline: Alright, fine. [beat] Wait – what’s a quaver?

When Bubblegum’s song fails, she and Marceline start bickering again, this time Marceline calling out Bubblegum’s failure at being perfect, which Bubblegum balks at, demanding that she never asked Marceline to be perfect.

The scenes are, on the surface, examples of two rivals bickering at each other because they both annoy the other. Many viewers picked up on the fact that the scenes play out much more like two exes who can’t let their past history go. This is reinforced at the episode’s end when the characters unlock the door and retrieve their sentimental items, after Finn sings a pretty cute song about how much he values their friendship:

Finn lost his lock of Bubblegum’s hair, Jake his security blanket, and BMO gets a controller back. Jake then hands Marceline a rock-band t-shirt which she claims isn’t hers, only for Bubblegum to hastily grab it and sheepishly explain that it belongs to her instead. Marceline is taken aback and quietly asks, “you kept the shirt I gave you?” which Bubblegum describes as “meaning a lot to me.” This makes it clearer still that the two used to be friends (at the very least) some time ago, and when questioned as to why no one ever sees her wearing it, Bubblegum explains that she wears it “all the time – as pyjamas!” before happily donning it then and there.

They then realise that Marceline didn’t actually lose anything of sentimental value, she just wanted to hang out with everyone and have fun – an embarrassed Marceline tries to deny this before turning into a monster and chasing them away as they run laughing with her, and the episode ends on a typically random note that Adventure Time fans have come to expect.

The episode drew controversy from those who disagreed with the episode’s heavy suggestions that Marceline and Bubblegum were at some point romantically involved, and this wasn’t helped by the “MATHEMATICAL!” recap of the show, which directly asks fans the question of what they thought of the pairing and its potential. (Mathematical, by the way, is synonymous with “awesome!” in the same way that the show also utilises the term “Algebraic!”)

This is a recreated version of the recap video:

After drawing fire for alluding to alternative forms of sexuality in a kids’ show, the recap was pulled from the air, and executive producer Fred Seibert released the following statement:

“Well, I completely screwed up. There’s been chatter on the internet recently about our latest Adventure Time “Mathematical!” video recap that we created, posted, and removed here at Federator [sic]. I figure it’s time to clear up the matter.

In trying to get the show’s audience involved we got wrapped up by both fan conjecture and spicy fanart and went a little too far. Neither Cartoon Network nor the Adventure Time crew had anything to do with putting up or taking down our latest re-cap. The episode “What was Missing” remains a terrific short and will be shown again and again just like any other Adventure Time episode.

I let us goof in a staggering way and I’m deeply sorry it’s become such a distraction for so many people.”

The problem with this statement is that he’s apologising for something that shouldn’t be apologised for.

The implied relationship between Marceline and Bubblegum (or “Bubbline” as the fan nickname states) is just that – implied. Although it’s easily discernible, there’s nothing that officially states it as canonical, save for the recap, which even then, only draws attention to the possibility not stating that it was definite fact.

But it also begs the question, why should this be a problem, even if it was stated outright that the two had been in a previous relationship?

Let’s talk for a moment about “coded” characters. A coded character is one who is written in such a way that certain features or traits of the character are not specifically stated, but can be easily interpreted by a section of the audience. Coded characters also take the form of being written in such a way that their codes reflect back on their personality or actions. Queer representations in fiction have historically utilised coded characters in both good and bad ways.

The documentary The Celluloid Closet (which is fantastic, by the way) delves into this in great detail. Under the moralistic standards of the Hayes Code, Hollywood looked to alternative ways of appealing to different audiences, especially queer audiences, by writing characters in such a way that audiences would identify a character or characters as gay even if it were not stated in the movie itself. Or, on the opposite side of the coin, there were the tendencies to invoke a response from the audience or simply to write in subliminal suggestion about their motivations by suggesting that the character is gay This was a result of not being allowed to portray any character of “sexual aberrance” (read: no gays allowed).

While this means that there’s a long and unfortunate history of characters being portrayed as villainous because of their sexuality, a thematic tendency that continues to this day, it also means there’s the more positive spin of positive representations or efforts made in a spirit of inclusion for the queer audience.

This can extend simplistic offerings made to audiences just to be able to see something on screen, such as the ‘Ain’t there anyone here for love?’ number in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, to more intricate presentations woven into the screenplay itself

A good example of this is Ben Hur, which Gore Vidal wrote with the deliberate intention that Judah Ben-Hur and Messala were childhood friends on the surface, but former lovers to those looking for the cues. Fittingly, he told this to Stephen Boyd, but not Charlton Heston (for fear his ego wouldn’t be accommodating to the idea), which is why Messala looks super-keen to get things going again, while Judah appears to have moved on. Although Messala goes on to become the antagonist of the film, the subtextual relationship is still presented in the film and there for those who want to view the film as such.

As times and standards have changed, this has clearly allowed for more representations of LGBTQI characters in film and TV, and in a wider array of perspectives and narratives. Double standards still abound however, and it’s certainly not an even playing field (for those who want to know more, watch the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated, which addresses the significant disparity in classification of material featuring queer sex scenes in contrast with heterosexual ones).

Back on the topic of Adventure Time and Bubbline, it’s essential to understand that neither character’s sexuality is their defining trait, and the characters were well established before the introduction of this potential reading of their relationship. They’re not specifically written as coded characters, even if the codes are still there.

The reason I bring up this distinction is that there’s no merit towards the controversy. There’s no graphic sex scene between the two, there’s no anguished declaration of their inability to be “normal”, there’s nothing that could be misconstrued as anything other than innocent.

The What Was Missing episode merely codes their relationship to suggest they may have been romantically involved. This in and of itself should not be a controversial fact. The suggestion of their relationship is actually less confrontational than some of the aspects surrounding Finn.

In the same episode, Jake busts Finn cuddling up with his lock of Bubblegum’s hair and proceeds to make some jokes that can easily be interpreted as being about masturbation. The season 5 episode Frost & Fire deals with Finn, now a teenager embarking on his first proper relationship with the Flame Princess. When Flame Princess and Ice King get into a fight, Finn has a dream that night that is a very thinly veiled representation of a wet dream, including Flame Princess shooting beams of flame directly at his crotch. There’s nary a peep to be heard of people balking at these scenes, when the argument could be made that they’re inappropriate in a kids’ show due to their more sexually overt content.

"Frost & Fire"

“Frost & Fire”

The problem, it seems, is that the codes surrounding Bubbline were decoded a little too quickly, and despite the suggestion of their implied relationship being entirely chaste, the powder-keg of how we treat queer representation in mainstream media was on its way to igniting.

Fred Seibert’s response calls the recap’s addressing of the Bubbline relationship a mistake in which he “completely screwed up.” If the recap had been a sleazy representation of Marceline and Princess Bubblegum as sexual eye-candy, then yes, he would’ve. But it simply addressed the potential that there was a new way to appreciate two characters that the fans had already embrace.

And appreciate they did.

Despite the network response towards it, the Bubbline relationship is still very much alive in the fandom. This is readily apparent on forums and other places people voice their opinion, and it has of course lead to tonnes of fan-art being created of the pair. And while some of it is admittedly a bit “spicy” as Seibert would place it, the majority is as innocuous as you would expect of people embracing the potential for a sweet and loving relationship imagined between their favourite characters. The ones I’ve included here frame the relationship through a more mature lens, legitimising the appeal of the relationship more than mere suggestion:

'Bubbline: Closer' by TammyV

‘Bubbline: Closer’ by TammyV
http://tammyv.deviantart.com/

'Bubbline' by SakuraBlossom4

‘Bubbline’ by SakuraBlossom4
http://sakurablossom4.deviantart.com/

'bubbline sparkle kiss' by Mirrei

‘bubbline sparkle kiss’ by Mirrei
http://mirrei.deviantart.com/

Intertwined by SugarContent

‘Intertwined’ by SugarContent
http://sugarcontent.deviantart.com/

The unwritten cause of the controversy is the age-old “think of the children!” cry. Anyone who has seen the episode knows that there’s not really that much to cry foul at, unless they have an intrinsic problem with lesbianism or queer identity in and of itself. The “controversial” thing about the Bubbline relationship is that it’s in a kids’ show, and that despite growing social progress in how people accept homosexuality, there’s still a train of thought that says kids shouldn’t be exposed to it.

The knee-jerk reaction to sexuality that strays from the boy-girl norm is that it’s something that has to be understood rather than taken for granted. The mild version of this reaction is to say that it might confuse children, whereas the awful version is that it will corrupt them.

This assumption is based on the idea that heteronormativity is the default setting and that something that doesn’t fit into this needs to be addressed and explained, or rejected and vilified – that queer identity is something to hide from children and not something that should “put any ideas in their heads.”

I could make this argument for the act of sex itself, which young minds might not be able to comprehend until a certain age. But the idea of romantic relationships between people is not something that has ever been put under much scrutiny when those people have different genitals. A lot of media aimed at children contains portrayals of innocent romance, and it’s considered cute and innocent when toddlers give each other chaste kisses on the cheeks so much that the greeting card industry would probably collapse overnight if it weren’t.

20080324-young-love11

Given that this same innocence is the level of explicitness that the Bubbline relationship is presented with, there’s nothing that should be considered controversial or offensive, unless you’re of the mindset that a queer relationship is in and of itself something offensive.

For kids who are already a little bit confused as to why they don’t understand the big deal about the whole boy-girl thing, and might fancy kissing the other girls, or the other boys as it were, there’s an incredible dearth of anything to introduce them to the idea until they get to the age where they learn it’s not the social norm and that something is different.

Something as innocent as the Bubbline relationship might not even be interpreted as an actual relationship by these same young minds, but as they grow and become more aware of the world around them and how things work, I can’t see that it’s a bad thing that they got to watch something which might have thought the same way as them when they were younger.

Our TVs and movies are no longer ruled by the Hayes Code, and there’s no longer any need to keep queer identity hidden or coded. Perhaps ladling it on too thick would upset the status quo of Adventure Time; the attention given to Finn’s romance with Flame Princess or Princess Bubblegum has caused a divide in the fandom, especially with those who just want to see some wacky adventures. But the idea that an innocent relationship between two female characters has no place in a kids’ show is a damaging argument to anyone who ever needed to see themselves represented outside their own minds, even if it is in a place as strange as the land of Ooo.

Despite Fred Seibert’s “screw up”, the fan response has proved it’s got a strong following and this has continued on through the show – Season 5’s Sky Witch has Marceline and Bubbline join up on an adventure to defeat an evil witch, and much of it makes more logical sense if you consider that the two have a romantic history; the witch has stolen Marceline’s teddy bear Hambo due to it’s incredible source of sentimental value. This teddy bear plays a large part in Marceline’s backstory, and the viewers know how important it is to her – it’s literally been through the wars with her. Bubblegum gets it back for Marceline by trading in the t-shirt from What Was Missing – something the witch only excepts because it contains significantly more sentimental value than Hambo, and in a generous nod to the Bubbline fans, the last scene of them in the episode has them falling through the sky in an embrace. 

Adventure Time is a show that has succeeded due to the multitudinous ways in which it can be enjoyed. Due to its devotion to being a fun and (mostly) carefree show, and the exuberance and enthusiasm the characters have for every thing they do, it’s a show that makes you feel included in the fun. A lot of people have a lot of different things to appreciate about it, and they’re all very valid given how diverse the appealing elements of the show are. For many, that is the inclusion of the Bubbline relationship; it certainly has its place and its appreciation. And you’re damn right I ship it.

Sky Witch

NOTES:

  • “Queer” is not meant here in a derogatory sense. It refers to any expression of sexual identity that doesn’t follow the heterosexual pairing of boy/girl or man/woman.
  • A huge thank you to the DeviantArt deviants who’ve allowed me the usage of their art.
  • ‘The Celluloid Closet’ and ‘This Film is Not Yet Rated’ are both available on YouTube should you be interested; while I firmly believe you should try and give the creators your money for these films, I know they can be difficult to track down.
  • It’s also worth mentioning that the show has continued to take a look at gender and sexual identity issues through the framework of its cute characters. BMO isn’t specifically gendered as a character – although voiced by female Nikki Yang, characters have referred to BMO “she” and “it” in various settings, but most commonly referred to as “he”. Season 5’s BMO Lost explores the idea of BMO becoming involved in a relationship with a bubble of air named Bubble, voiced by Lavar Burton, who at one point offers his hand in marriage. Another episode, ‘Princess Cookie’ from Season 4, features a cookie trying to take revenge on Bubblegum for humiliating him in his youth by denying his wish to become a princess.

“Today Tonight”: Where principles don’t matter and pandering to the idiot masses is order of the day

Most of the time I’m very happy to be Australian, but there are times when I cringe. While I love our sunburnt country, it has to be said that there are many things wrong with it, not least of all an uneasy combination of racism and active anti-intellectualism.

While this means that for the fair majority of Australians, we have to walk an uneasy line between being patriotic and embarrassed, it also means that some institutions are able to use this to their advantage, and there is nothing more appealing to actively-stupid Australian racists than shows like Today Tonight or A Current Affair.

These are shows designed for people who consider following celebrity gossip as “being interested in the news” and for people who just want to complain about things they consider an affront to them. These shows are the bogan and televised equivalent of a person who is given a new car and complains that it doesn’t fly.

These shows prey on the sensationalism that stupid people lap up, with stories of supermarkets conspiring to jack up their prices, of dodgy car parks where your car will be sold into white slavery and which celebrity diet is really the most effective.

The stories run on little more than hyperbole and exaggeration, and always, always, appeal to the lowest common denominators of Australia, and that’s what these shows precisely are: common.

There seems to be some controversy either brewing or erupting, depending on how representative my Facebook news feed is of general opinion, over a report recently run on Today Tonight regarding the treatment of asylum seekers.

In true Today Tonight fashion, the story is overcooked, fraudulent, and attempting little except a call to arms from the great unwashed to reinforce their own racism against asylum seekers.

Thankfully, the shining light in this televisual loss of brain cells comes from ABC’s Media Watch who rightly eviscerated the segment.

Click the image below to see their article (will open in a new window/tab)

Now, in response to this, Today Tonight have posted a “clarification” video. And I definitely say “in response to this” because without Media Watch’s scathing fact-check, nothing would’ve come from Today Tonight at all – why would they disrupt their moronic propaganda if they could get away with it?

The clarification video (also transcribed below if you’d rather not listen to Matt White anymore than is necessary):

Click the image to watch the video (will open in a new window or tab).

A whole load of bullshit

Now recently we aired a story looking at federal government handouts to asylum seekers, and a few things need to be cleared up the story included vision of detainees staying at a 4 star hotel it was shot last year and was current at that time but that situation was suspended in June this year.

Also shown was vision of refugees [that] the report stated were in a community based detention centre we’ve since learned it was government subsidised accommodation and some of the occupants were refugees who have been granted visas.

And it needs to be clarified that asylum seekers in detention get no cash benefits. Once they’re granted a visa they receive Centrelink benefits of $462 a fortnight.

So here’s the thing – this is all a sham. This is a token effort to maintain some ludicrous visage of credibility, responsibility and accountability. It’s not like Today Tonight is well-regarded anyway (well, not by people who matter) but even then, it’s a new step backwards to have all your shoddy ethical practices called out, your manipulations, your misleadings and your plain-and-simple outright lies named for what they are, and to still not actually apologise.

Today Tonight is hoping that you will see this video as an apology. Its regular viewers will probably acknowledge that “Hey, Today Tonight messed up, but isn’t it responsible of them to let us know?” (Except the average viewer of Today Tonight will use a word other than “responsible” because four syllables is probably a bit much) but the rest of us can see it clearly – as 40 seconds of crap.

I’ll state the obvious right away that these are all things Media Watch covered, and covered better. If there’s going to be some half-arsed attempt at a token apology (I daresay Today Tonight didn’t even let a quarter of their arse enter into their efforts) it should be something that hasn’t already been said by a more articulate and trustworthy source.

Then you’ll notice that there is no actual apology. Even given the bare bones of what is covered here, they don’t actually apologise for getting their facts wrong. No, let me rephrase that, they don’t apologise for lying. They can skirt around the issue and pose some jargon, but they aren’t actually taking blame for their misdeeds.

I also have a massive issue with “it was shot last year and was current at that time.” OK, anything that you shoot is “current” at the time you shoot it. Even the bogan masses who make up Today Tonight’s viewership could get their heads around that. But more to the point, they shot footage that was going to be used misleadingly. They got enough to angle their story into a racist call-to-arms against asylum seekers and would never have used it fairly, so what difference does it make if it “was current at that time”? Does it make their lies slightly fresher

Note also how Today Tonight hasn’t even acknowledged that they misrepresented themselves to an interviewee and approached him under false circumstances and used his image without his permission. Even by the bottom-of-the-barrel standards shows like Today Tonight use, this is unforgivable. That alone should prompt an actual outright apology, with no attempt to make admissions for their practice. It is unethical, and bordering on illegal, but it’s not even given a cursory mention in the “clarification” video.

Furthermore – and not that it will ever happen – how about an apology for creating inflammatory propaganda that fosters racism in the Today Tonight audience? I’m going to be bluntly elitist here and make a statement that most people will agree with: the people who watch Today Tonight are idiots and can’t think for themselves. Otherwise, they’d be watching actual news programs. Broadcasting a segment like this is asking said idiots to ostracise the unfortunate many who seek asylum in Australia. This segment is actively encouraging people to mistreat, mistrust and disregard asylum seekers, and to what end? To get a slightly higher spot in the ratings.

All that this video has clarified is that Today Tonight will continue to give Australians nothing worthwhile. They’ll continue to create garbage like this, and let us all know how we’re being screwed over because our government isn’t spoon feeding us $100 bills, and they’ll cap it off with a story about a woman who feels imprisoned by her toaster.

It’s useless to rail against idiotic TV shows that are made for idiots who love TV, but when their standards drop this incredibly low, and have some very real implications aside, something needs to be done. If not an outright admission of guilt, an acknowledgment of dishonest and unethical practises, and something done to address the outrage more than a quick rehash of facts that have been spelled out by better people, then at least an actual apology.

But that won’t happen. It would mean that the viewers would actually have to think when they’re watching today tonight, and that would be unforgivable. And I’m not even sure what good can come from this – for the people who would be surprised by the revelation that Today Tonight is a shoddy programme, they won’t care enough to stop watching, and for those who already know it, they don’t watch it anyway.

But then there’s that shuddering realisation that the people you see interviewed on Today Tonight actually exist, and that the show is still on air, so people actually watch it with interest, and then there’s the unmistakable horror that these people might come into contact with non-Australians someday, and the rest of us will be judged by the standards of the half-witted ectoplasms who think Today Tonight is genuinely newsworthy. And that’s the worst offence of Today Tonight’s crimes.

I don’t know enough about the Asylum seeker debate to give an opinion, except to say that I know it’s divisive and problematic enough that it would be unwise to express a stance without too much information. But that’s certainly more thought given to their plight than Today Tonight showed in their segment. Get them off the air.

My Top 10 Buffy Episodes

Purely opinionated, full of spoilers, and written with the assumption that you’ve seen the show.

10. Once More With Feeling

Some will disagree, thinking this belongs higher on the list, but I can never quite get past the “gimmick episode” feel of OMWF. Yes, they justify it, and they justify it well, what with a musically inclined demonic invocation, but it’s still “Buffy: the Musical episode.”

What’s good about it is the sheer amount of effort put into this episode, and some wise choices. Alyson Hannigan said she couldn’t sing: they gave her no more than two lines in the entire episode. Anthony Head and Amber Benson were accomplished performers – and it shows! The episode doesn’t need to be “Buffy is the main character, she must sing the main songs!” and it must be said that, while not horrible at all, Sarah Michelle Gellar is not a strong singer; but she does a good job.

The episode is great in that, despite keeping with the light humour and general cheesiness that makes Buffyso beloved amongst its fans, it still manages to devastate – the other thing that Buffy did really well in spades. Ending the relatively bright Something to Sing About with Buffy’s discordant revelation to her friends that they ripped her from heaven and happiness is quite the punch.

But the episode is fun, well-written and very re-watchable.

9. Nightmares

Even though it got darker as it went on, Buffy was always a very cheesy show, and that is half of the charm. But it’s never cheesier than in its first season, with the exception of Nightmares, much of which is genuinely terrifying and unsettling.

It’s a theme that they’d pick up again in the later seasons, personal fears manifesting in daily life, butNightmares did it first and was the first sign of the series growing the beard, and was a sign of the more mature themes to be tackled later.

It does have its silly moments – the giant mosquitoes ring particularly narmy – but the scary moments are really scary – I don’t like clowns to begin with, but this episode’s demonic clown is right up there with Poltergeist in terms of creating coulrophobes the world over. Furthermore, Buffy is not only horribly rejected by her father (it’s not real) which touches everyone on a familial level, but she gets buried alive. I have two fears in life – clowns and suffocating (and I suppose Marble Hornets, but it’s too soon to call that an ongoing fear). Yeah she gets turned into a vampire as well, but with the being buried alive, this episode goes from creepy to High Octane Nightmare Fuel. Oh, and even though he turns out to be the victim of the week, seeing the kid appear calmly in the midst of all the chaos is just unsettling.

8. I Only Have Eyes For You

This is another episode that’s pretty creepy, but it’s one of the best examples of how the show uses its supernatural elements to create amazing storytelling.

This is the episode which features two ghosts haunting the high school, James, the aggressive student who killed the teacher he was having an affair with, and Grace, the teacher herself.

What’s brilliant about it is how they take an independent story and fuse it in with the ongoing story arc – in this instance, Buffy is still struggling with the loss of Angel to his demon self, Angelus. So she gets possessed by the ghost of James, and takes out his aggression to Angelus, possessed by Grace.

Not only is this fucking brilliant in terms of showing character insight, they even use the two to progress the individual story – because Angelus can’t die from a gunshot, Grace is able to get up and forgive James, letting the two of them cross over.

The episode is creepy and awesome, but also just amazingly well written – and you won’t hear I Only Have Eyes For You again without thinking it creepy.

7. This Year’s Girl/Who Are You?

Yeah yeah, two episodes, but it’s part 1 and 2 so shut up. This is the two-parter where Faith revives from her coma, and inhabits Buffy’s body, running amok ad creating havoc.

One of the reasons I just love this episode is that I just love Faith. She’s a badass and she’s just awesome for it, and I love getting to see her again after being gutted in season 3.

But again, this is an episode that uses the supernatural to deal with the characters – namely Faith’s self esteem and development. Some consider it a bit too obvious, but the scene where Faith (in Buffy’s body) is screaming and beating the shit out of Buffy (in Faith’s body) shows us a lot about what Faith really thinks of herself.

Yeah, Faith then went on to have more character development in Angel (which I never really got into) and came back for the last few episodes of Season 7, but if they had just finished her storyline with these two episodes, I still would’ve been happy, because it’s just so well written. Also, shows that Eliza Dushku can really act – she captures all of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy mannerisms perfectly. Sarah Michelle Gellar does a good job of being Faith as well, but Eliza Dushku does the role-reversal better.

6. The Weight of the World

This is the one in Season 5 where Buffy goes catatonic after Glory kidnaps Dawn, and Willow goes inside her head and tries to figure out what happened to her to snap her out of it.

This episode is great because it finally shows that Buffy does get really affected by her life. Yeah she occasionally breaks down, but for the most part, she gets back to slayin’ the demons with a quip. When things did get to her, she always overcame it in a big way – when she killed Angel, she ran away to LA, went to hell and back, and then it was business as usual. But this episode shows how even the little things are getting to her, and that it all affects her in the end, sometimes in ways she can’t deal with.

There’s not much to say about it really, other than that it does its one thing really well. It shows Buffy’s guilt, the burden of her responsibility, and it plays around with narrative really well. It’s probably weakest in its subplot, outside of Buffy’s mind, but then again there’s probably not enough to make into a full episode on its own. What there is here is great, and even its weaker elements can be overlooked.

5. Band Candy

Possibly another gimmick episode – Buffy meets Freaky Friday – but this is one of the more enjoyable episodes. It’s funny and clever, and not even remotely creepy, but it doesn’t need to be.

It’s always fun to use the child-becomes-more-responsible-than-parents storyline, and this does it hilariously and smartly; not only does Joyce get a lot of insight – she’s not just a vagabond teenager, we see that she was a pretty uncool kid who was desperate to fit in with the cool guys – we also get to see Giles in his unkempt youth, which had been hinted at in Season 2, and here gets a bit of play.

Some of it doesn’t work – there’s no reason why every single adult in Sunnydale acts as though they’re a child of the 70s, regardless of age, and the demon that the series just needs to throw in is a massive let down, but it’s a really fun episode. It doesn’t contribute much to the overall story, but it’s just a good episode, devoted entirely to being funny and I love it for it.

Also leads to one of the series funnier moments in the episode where Buffy becomes telepathic and learns just what Joyce and Giles got up to that night.

4. Conversations With Dead People

Loooooooove this episode. It’s dark and serious, progresses the storyline, is creepy in parts, funny in others and it’s just awesome.

CWDP is a really unusual episode – it has four distinct separate storylines, a result of the filming schedule becoming too hectic to continue with the usual “large storyline with subplots” structure of most episodes, meaning they just got the necessary actors and filmed what they had to.

But rather than sticking out as an episode of weird design, it just becomes a subdued story, while still moving the storyline of season 7 forward. The episode is weakest dealing with Willow’s storyline – she gets visited by Cassie, a guest star who died a few weeks before, except it’s really The First toying with her mind – the episode was written with Tara returning to the role, but Amber Benson didn’t want her to come back as an evil being – and it’s pretty obvious they just shoehorned in another character. It’s still really good, and Alyson Hannigan does an amazing job, but it’s such an obvious character-swap, it’s hard to overlook that.

The episode is strongest with Dawn’s storyline – with her having visions of her mother being harassed by a demon. So Dawn busts out the magic books and messes around with stuff more powerful than her – and shit goes bad. The flashes of nightmare fuel that happen during these scenes are really creepy.

But for being able to take a production mishap and turn it into a really great episode, this episode sticks out as just great writing.

3. Restless

I like weird stuff, and let’s face it, Buffy didn’t get much weirder than Restless, an episode that plays out almost entirely in dreams.

A lot of people complained with this episode that it was just meaningless and weird for weird’s sake – it’s not at all. Every single dream tells so much about the character and who they are, and it foreshadows nearly everything that would happen in the next season.

Yes it’s weird and dreamy – but WHO HAS NORMAL DREAMS!? Also, props must be given to the first slayer, who makes her first appearance here and is pretty creepy. She’s not as terrifying as some other characters, but she’s still very malevolent, especially because she’s kept in the distance a lot. A note to all storywriters – things are creepiest when they’re not shown in great detail. Why was the first Alien so creepy? You barely ever saw the creature. Why is The Descent so terrifying? The monsters are really only glimpsed, or seen in shadows and darkness. Why is Marble Hornets so scary? Because you don’t know what the fuck is happening!

Also, the version of Death of a Salesman seen in this episode is just priceless. I heart it immensely.

Restless is awesome. It’s weird as hell but also meaningful. It seems really random, but it’s actually greatly significant to later episodes and the seasons. I wear the cheese, but it does not wear me.

2. Hush

Another gimmick episode, but an original gimmick and brilliantly done – an episode in near-silence. Even people who never watched Buffy seem to know of this episode, and with good reason – it’s one of the best, and one of the scariest.

Everyone remembers the Gentlemen – we never saw them again in the series, and possibly this is a good thing. BECAUSE THEY WERE TERRIFYING. They were creepy and evil, but so polite while they did their evulz. They are easily the scariest villains in the series, and this episode is just brilliantly constructed around it. It also helps that their lackeys are like demonic asylum patients – people in strait jackets are creepy. Another reason I was scared by Marble Hornets? The Slender Man reminds me of the Gentlemen!

One of the scariest things about the episode is that no one can speak – for some reason this plays into my fear of suffocation, cos when one guy gets his heart cut out and is silently screaming, it makes me just wanna take a massive breath and fill my lungs. I think having the strait-jacket slaves helps this as well – it’s bad enough to be terrified and have horrible things done to you, but to not be able to vocalise it…yikes.

There’s still moments of humour in the episode, but it really is just an amazingly terrifying piece of work, and even though I’ve seen it a thousand times.

1. The Body

Sorry to end this on a downer episode, but The Body is not only the best episode of Buffy, it’s one of the best episodes of any series ever.

Characters die in series, and it’s sad, but it’s rarely as devastating as Joyce’s death in Season 5. Buffy always developed its characters and made them feel real and deep, and Joyce was no exception. She was kind and loving, and very warm, but at the same time had her limits – you got the sense that she really loved her daughters, but at the same time was lonely, and frustrated with the weirdness that crept into her life. Compare Season 1 Joyce with Season 4 Joyce. That is character development people.

So when she died it was horrible, because we lost a friend. I know that sounds wanky, but it was really, really sad. So many characters on Buffy died and it was expendable, necessary to the story, but with Joyce it was really a tragic loss.

I think the episode is particularly devastating because it shows something which a lot of people try to ignore in dealing with death – when someone dies, it’s boring. You can’t do anything exciting because it’s disrespectful, and let’s face it, no one wants to when someone close to them dies. But it is dull, and there’s so much to do, but how to go about it? The episode is particularly sad because there aren’t many Tear Jerker moments – it’s mostly just subdued and slow, and you get how weird it feels to know that Joyce is gone, and that she’s not coming back.

It says something that every single time she made a guest appearance after her death, you instantly wanted her to be back for good. In The Weight of the World, you see her bringing Dawn home to a toddler-aged Buffy, and it’s so nice to see Joyce again, even despite the enormity of that episode.

It’s the most realistic depiction of how normal death affects people I can think of. It’s weird and disorienting, but eerily calm, and it’s all the more depressing. If anybody has ever said that Buffy is a shit show, this episode would shut them up roundly. It also has no music in it, which adds to the atmosphere. Normally there’s constant scoring in Buffy, and the silence only quietens the episode more, and I don’t mean that in a punny way. It’s harder to take, because there’s no music to tell us how to feel. We have to deal with this death, and the boredom and inaction of death, from our own instincts.

No one gives a bad performance in this episode, and it’s an absolute crime it didn’t even get nominated for an Emmy, let alone win many. Emma Caulfield, as Anya, gives one of the most heartbreaking speeches ever, and again it’s the show using supernatural with character development; as an ex-demon, she doesn’t understand human emotion, and as she struggles to understand death she gives a monologue that is reallyhard to not tear up at. Similarly, the scene where Buffy tells Dawn the bad news is also heartbreaking, shot from within a classroom looking at the two of them talking outside.

I don’t care what anyone says. This is the saddest episode of television ever. It’s also one of the best episodes ever created, of not only this series but all TV.

 

Copied over from my Facebook on inception of the blog. Originally written 3/10/2010