Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Critics Are Too Critical

When it comes to entertainment, I can be overly critical. I realize this. However, I can also be entertained and just go with the flow if a story or character is compelling enough. I really enjoyed everything Doctor Who that I watched this year (I did not watch Series 1, so I can't say whether I would like those episodes or not), except there was something about the Christmas episode, Matt Smith's farewell episode, that just rubbed me the wrong way. I didn't hate it, but after the extremely entertaining 50th anniversary episode, and after a great run of long story arcs, fun adventures and 11th Doctor goofiness, it was just... not up to par. Oh, there was goofiness, and adventure, but it felt forced.

I didn't like the stupid "all the aliens in the galaxy converge and then just sit there for centuries" plot. I didn't like the weak resolutions to multiple problems (the Doctor's death, the crack in the universe, the deadly regeneration power conveniently winning a war that didn't have to happen, etc.) and I especially didn't like the sappy, sloppy farewell monologue and Amy-laden end of Matt Smith's tenure. It was too much-- instead of feeling sad, I felt like the writer and director were trying to manipulate me. And I felt like Smith deserved better.

When Tennant regenerated, my heart broke and I cried. I loved his Doctor and he was so believable, (and maybe well-written?) that I couldn't help but feel his pain and sadness at saying good-bye. 

But Smith's was gooey and heavy-handed. His favorite snack sat on the dashboard panel; the bow tie ceremoniously dropped to the floor (in slo-mo, no less); and instead of seeing his wife, River, or paying attention to the companion IN THE ROOM, there's a cheesy, ridiculous cameo by both young and adult Amy that was completely unnecessary. (As was the fact that the Doctor couldn't go visit her and Rory in the past, but I can forgive the writers doing stupid things like that because it's a kids' sci-fi show-- plot holes and twisty non-explanations are part of the deal- especially since one would hesitate to kill off favorite characters on a children's show.)

Anyway, I wasn't yet sure what was bothering me, so I went looking online for reviews. Often reading other people's opinions shake mine loose-- sometimes I can't find the words until I read something I either agree or disagree strongly with. I found, to my surprise, some scathing reviews of all of Steven Moffat's Doctor Who management, especially in the last few years, as well as some criticism of the much-loved "Sherlock", also under Moffat's care.
Some of what was written about Doctor Who: the companions for 11 were all pretty, but useless; the women did nothing to help solve the problems at hand and had little to do besides talk about boys and serve as damsels in distress; Matt Smith was better than the material he was written; his doctor was sexist and a braggart, and he seemed to have lost the depth of David Tennant's emotive stories. I don't agree with all of that, but I can see the critics' points. This one is a decent article, in particular. Pardon the language.

Now I'm looking at both shows through different eyes. Where I was blissfully enjoying Who for it's balance of lightness and depth, campy sci-fi aliens and the over-the-top heroics of the Doctor, now I'm thinking, "hmm, maybe Doctor Who isn't as good as I thought..." and that's too bad.

I don't want to be wishy-washy. I love Doctor Who. I enjoyed watching it very, very much. I look forward to what happens with Peter Capaldi, but now I wonder if I can go back and re-watch the 11th Doctor's adventures without looking for these negative things that are now planted in my mind. I hope so.

And then there's Sherlock, which some critics say also suffers from Moffat's sexism, such as the problem of strong, powerful women turning to pudding when the hero enters the scene (both in Sherlock and Who this seems to be a common theme for critics). I didn't notice... I just thought Sherlock was brilliant, emotionally distant and socially disconnected. It's the character. It isn't necessarily sexism.
But can I now watch Sherlock without noticing things that hyper-sensitive critics would call sexist? The only thing I found sexist (but sadly, not surprising) was Irene Adler being partially or fully nude for much of her episode. That was obviously done to attract male viewers and not because it was necessary.

Maybe the reason I don't notice something like sexism in these shows is because I don't feel oppressed by men, nor by shows featuring strong men paired with emotional women. I don't equate emotional with weak. It doesn't feel like stereotyping. I'm a strong woman-- I deal with more than my share of the workload of life, in spite of being married to a man. I think the world is made of people who are both strong and weak, of active people and emotional people. And that's okay. I don't always need a female hero in stories. Sherlock is incredibly entertaining and surprising, even after watching the episodes multiple times. 

Anyway, I still like these shows, and I sincerely hope reading such articles hasn't soured the experience for me. Keeping in mind that in spite of the fact that Doctor Who is technically a show for kids, it consists of very intelligent storylines and some really deep explorative emotional conflict. It's a great show and a lot of fun to roll with and enjoy. 

No matter what the critics say.

1 comment:

Chris said...

I can't speak to "Doctor Who," as I have only watched a few stories; I'm not the Who-phile you've become. But regarding "Sherlock's" sexism, having read all the short stories and novels by Arthur Conan Doyle, it seems to be right in line with the way Holmes was originally imagined. In this regard, "Elementary" gets it right, while still allowing for a female Watson. Except for Irene, the love of his life -- in only one story, if I remember correctly -- he's pretty much an asexual being. There's no romance in his soul and few women in his circle. He's sort of a "solving" machine. And that's OK, especially when he's being adapted as interestingly as he is in TV form these days. (The less said about the Robert Downey Jr. movies the better.)