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Erin (re)Watches: The Middleman, The West Wing, Steven Universe July 21, 2015

Posted by Erin Ptah in Erin Watches.
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There’s a rewatch of The Middleman going on in muccamukk ‘s journal! I originally saw the series via pirated torrents, liked it so much I went out and bought the DVD boxset…then never actually used the DVDs. Not even to look at the bonus features. The plastic wrap was still on the box yesterday when I pulled it out for the rewatch.

I’ll type my reactions on the posts over there; this is just a heads-up for anyone who wants to follow along.

Netflix has The West Wing, so I’m doing a rewatch as a palate-cleanser from Scandal. A big ensemble cast of fast-talkers and speedwalkers, lots of high-stakes politics…but most of the people are decent human beings! And when they screw up, the narrative treats it as a screwup, not as tragic heroism!

After sitting through the discomfort of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and the disaster that was The Newsroom (with the exception of Olivia Munn), I was kinda worried TWW would be retroactively tarnished. But so far, so good! I don’t feel like the characters’ flaws are gendered — most of them can be goofy and ridiculous at times, and it all feels like well-rounded individual characterization, not like the women have big signs over their heads labeled “those wacky ladies, amirite?” The plot has yet to be warped around a “middle-aged male hero alternately fights with and pines over his feisty ex” storyline.

None of Sorkin’s pet “new arrival gets surprise!promoted way above their experience level/has to do the work of ten people, in order to show how great they are” device, either. We know the characters are competent because they have solid backstories of work in their field, and because we see them doing their individual jobs really well in the present. And that’s enough. The narrative still gets to indulge in their competence, and it’s all the more fulfilling because it’s not so over-the-top that you just get annoyed.

Plus, the tech level is (at this point) late-90s. There have been multiple scenes so far where I thought “can’t you look that up on the Internet?”…seriously, I don’t have a great sense for what was online in 1999. (Although I’m sure the text of the Constitution was downloadable then.) Point is, we don’t have to suffer through any of Sorkin’s massive head-meet-wall failures to understand 2010s technology. (Remember that scene in The Newsroom where a character tried to prevent someone from accessing his email…by smashing his personal phone? Yeeeeah.)

And nobody we’re supposed to like has tortured and/or murdered anyone! I really can’t stress enough how refreshing this is.

There’s a character named David Rosen mentioned in the first season of TWW. Can’t remember if he ever appears in person. Does anyone know if the David Rosen on Scandal got his name as an homage? (It would make extra sense because the Rosen in Scandal is played by Joshua Malina — one of Sorkin’s famously recurring castees, seen on TWW as Will Bailey.)

I’m possibly the last person in my generation on the Internet to observe that Steven Universe is amazing, but I’ll say it anyway.

Marathoned the first season with a lot of spoilers already in hand, so I appreciated a ton of the foreshadowing. The very first episode involves Steven singing a song about an alien refugee from an interstellar war, come to hide out on Earth! Long before we have any hint that this is his moms’ actual backstory. (The song contains the line “He left his family behind”, and the show still hasn’t mentioned whether the Crystal Gems having families back on Homeworld. I bet you anything it’s only a matter of time.)

The worldbuilding is all the more impressive for 11-minute episodes. Tons of important plot elements have to be folded into simple monster-of-the-week stories, or fun domestic shenanigans. And so much is clearly planned from the beginning. (There’s a character who first gets mentioned in episode 51…and who can be seen in a mural in the background scenery of episode 8!)

For the record, I am on board with the Rose Diamond theory, the “Jasper is a fusion…of defective partial gems” theory, and as much (properly-tagged) NSFW fanart as the fandom can produce. The gayer, the better.

Original Gems are addictively fun to design. Especially once you start working out what their fusions would look like. It’s like discovering the idea of otaku senshi all over again.

…all the more so because elementary-school me literally drew a team of gemstone-based senshi OCs. This was more information than the baby Internet could provide — my total knowledge of gemstone names and properties came from the illustrated list in the family’s World Book Encyclopedia. Wish I still had the art, because that would be some adorable nostalgia.

The last TV series where I always had to find the latest installment ASAP after release was Madoka Magica. Of currently-running shows, for a long time it’s only been the fake news family (TDS, TCR, Last Week Tonight, and The Nightly Show). Add SU to the list.

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