Monday, August 24, 2020

Imaginary Friends

Wilhelm posted on shows he's been watching, these long indoor nights. I could do with a quick and easy idea for a post of my own right now, plus I was looking for an excuse to work my recent Netflix subscription into the conversation, so I'm going to pretend this is a response.

As I think I mentioned, I wanted to watch the fourth season of Lucifer. For arcane (maybe hellish) reasons it's on Netflix in the U.K. rather than Amazon Prime like the first three. I asked Mrs. Bhagpuss about the possibility of my piggybacking on her own piggybacked, daughter-hosted access.

It seemed to be quasi-legal. maybe. I read the Terms of Service but I couldn't make a whole lot of sense of them. There's a a lot of talk about devices but not much about people or accounts. It turned out to be a moot point anyway. Apparently shared access hadn't been working for a while.

We could have looked into that but at this point we both had a simultaneous epiphany. Why not get our own Netflix account? Radical! Sharing that, which would definitely be within the ToS, would cost us less than a fiver a month, each. That's practiacally free!

Why it took us a couple of years to come to this earth-shattering conclusion beats me. Sometimes you see the weave not the pattern, I guess.

So, we got Netflix. Since then Mrs. Bhagpuss has watched around a gajillion episodes of RuPaul's Drag Race, starting from the beginning and working forward. I haven't watched any but I know a surprising amount about it, now, all the same. Hard not to in this house.

I started watching the fourth season of Lucifer but to my own great surprise I quickly found I didn't want to, any more. There were some very obvious changes in the opening couple of episodes that felt  new-network-inspired and while they didn't make things that much different, they made things different enough to throw me off.

Had Lucifer still been on Prime, I'd have stuck with it and I will go back in a while, when I've forgotten enough about how it used to be to be fine with how it is, but the lure of so many fresh-to-me shows on Netflix was too tempting to resist. I dropped the devil for the deep blue sea of possibilites, the first of which, as I've discussed in some detail already, was Titans.

Titans was a rough watch and really not ideal for the last thing I'd see each night before I dreamed. I needed something to take the edge off before I went to sleep. Looking through the myriad possibilites I spotted something I'd wanted to see for years: Bojack Horseman.

Until now, everything I knew about Bojack Horseman came from Wilhelm's blog. That was where I first heard of it and pretty much the only place I ever did. He made it sound so intriguing I put in the effort, years ago, and tried to watch some episodes on YouTube, where everything is up at least until it gets taken down.

I didn't have much luck. All I found were a few clips but they served to whet my appetite further. When I looked into it, though, there seemed to be nowhere to watch the show other than Netflix. There were a few DVDs but they were imports, expensive and incomplete. Reluctantly I put the idea aside. Until now.

I've seen about half the first season. Let me tell you, it's no Mr. Ed. Yeah, I imagine everyone made that joke when it started. Anyone who didn't surely has more self-control than I do.

As I mentioned in that Titans piece, Bojack is rated 18, for absolutely no reason I can fathom. Yes, it's a little bit sweary and there's some sex, but by the standards of just about everything else I've watched in the last five years it's positively genteel.

I love it, so far. It's smart and funny but the real strength is in the characters, many of whom are painfully well-drawn despite not being very well drawn at all. It's also bleak as hell. If these are the early, funny seasons I have to wonder what I'm letting myself in for.

It became apparent pretty quickly that I couldn't rely on Bojack as a mood sweetener after Titans. Looking at the options, if I was looking for something as warm and cosy and familiar as an old sweater, what better choice than than Friends?

Yes, of course I've seen Friends. Like every human being alive in the '90s I watched every episode, some more than once, since it the damn show seemed be on permanent rotation on broadcast t.v. back then. The nineties were a long time ago, though. It must be more than twenty years since I last heard Chandler mis-emphasize a word. Long enough for the memory to feel nostalgic rather than nauseating.

I love sitcoms. Discovering MMORPGs gave me a fifteen year break from watching or even thinking about them but when that glamor began to wear off about the first thing I did was go on something of sitcom binge. Most of the shows I'd liked first time around seemed to have held up well so why not the ubercom? And anyway, to resist would be like avoiding World of Warcraft just because everyone plays it. I like to think I've learned my lesson there.

You'll be glad to hear I'm sure as hell not going to start reviewing Friends in 2020. Suffice it to say I'm onto Season 2 and the most surprising thing about the show so far is how much I remember and in how much detail. Oh, and how many sex jokes there are. Seriously, it's a lot.

When I re-watched all eleven seasons of Frasier a few years back it turned out I remembered nothing past about Season 3, which was hardly surprising because it also turned out I'd never seen anything past Season 3, even though I'd have sworn in a court of law I'd watched the entire series end to end. I think I can already remember entire plotlines in Friends going forward years from where I'm at now but I'm prepared to find out I'm wrong there, too.

One thing's for sure. In both cases I remember the characters intimately. As if they were people I've met. As if they were people I know.

I'm not saying that's a good thing. As I get older it becomes more and more apparent to me that what makes serial fiction so powerful is the way it  manipulates biology. Our brains haven't evolved sufficiently yet to differentiate the images and voices coming from the screen from those of real people in the room with us. When those images and sounds express an emotion it triggers a chemical reaction and we emote too. Sociopaths excluded, naturally.

The emotion we feel feels no different from a real emotion. That's because it is a real emotion. All emotions are real. It's chemistry, not metaphysics.

My current theory is that that's why I'm repeatedly drawn to ensemble pieces with recurring characters, imaginary people I imagine I like. My stupid brain thinks they're my friends.

With Titans that didn't really happen, probably because I couldn't stand half of them and those were the nice ones. None of them felt like people I'd want to hang with. They were more like family than friends and I've never been much of a family guy.

I guess I'd hang with Bojack and Diane and Princess Carolyn. Maybe even Mr. Peanutbutter. It's a little difficult to be sure. The brain gets a little fuddled with all the cross-species cartooning. I doubt there's evolutionary biology for that. I definitely feel something but it's not like Roswell or Smallville or Buffy or any of the other shows that effortlessly convince me I'm somehow part of a gang. Not a "gang" gang, you understand. Just a gang of friends.

Mrs. Bhagpuss hates to get to the end of novels she likes because what felt good feels bad when it stops. I don't have that problem with books but I do with series t.v.

It never really was an issue when I watched a show half an hour, once a week for a few months. Then a year off, start again. That's how we did it, last century. It sure is a problem now, though. These days I need a cooldown at the end of the final season of anything I really like. I have to read online reviews of the show I've just finished for a few hours to ease me out of the relationship before picking up with something new. Someone new.

Not everything works that way. Sometimes the triggers don't fit the receptors. Titans wasn't snug but I still enjoyed it, even when I hated it (that last episode sucks!), which is an intellectual response rather than an emotional one, I think. When it ended it left a supernatural/paranormal/superhero ensemble-show-sized  hole in my schedule. I filled it with The Umbrella Academy which, bizarrely, put me briefly in tune with the zeitgeist.

Netflix is very keen to tell me how popular that show is. #3 in the United Kingdom last week, apparently. Fell to #4 yesterday. Already I'm going out of fashion.

I could claim to be an early adopter. A while back, quite a while, it feels like at least a year, someone in the blogosphere mentioned the Umbrella Academy. I'm very sorry to say I don't remember who it was, but they were sufficiently convincing in their advocacy that I watched the first couple of episodes, back when we had the borrowed feed.

I had to watch it on Mrs. Bhagpuss's computer when she wasn't using it, which is basically only when she's at work. It wasn't ideal. I'm not generally much for watching shows or movies in the daytime anyway and it made things all a bit too "appointment to view" for my tastes. I was impressed but it was too much trouble. I dropped out after the first couple goes.

Well, now I'm back. Tonight I'll watch the last episode of the first season. It's an excellent show if you like shows that know they're excellent. I highly recommend it. It has convincing, peculiar characters, well-acted. It has a sharp script, some good jokes, exciting action scenes and a compelling plot. I really like it a lot.

And yet, despite the quality and the classic ensemble set up - literally a family of unrelated individuals, the trope could not be more meta - it doesn't do that thing I was talking about. I'm never inside their world. I never feel I'm one of them, there with them, sharing their feelings, their experiences, their lives.

Which isn't all that surprising because the Umbrella Academy is stagey as hell. It's camp and startling and clever and knows it. And because of it, my emotions are buffered. I feel things but at a remove. Which is great. It means I can relax and enjoy it even when bad things happen to people I like, which they do, frequently.

It's strange how these things work out. Noel Coward pointed out the potency of cheap music although I never felt he meant what I would have meant by it. What I do know is that not everything needs to be deep. It's all too easy to drown in shallow water, after all.

I've always trusted my feelings when it comes to art. I believe that makes me a philistine or a barbarian, something along those lines. Maybe an aesthete or a hedonist. An epicure?

I guess if I was more of an academic I'd know what to call myself. But then, what would I call my imaginary friends?


  1. Your observations about Umbrella Academy are spot on. You can enjoy the show with a level of detachment from the characters. I didn't realize why until you described it.

    1. I watched an episode last night where I got so involved that I swore out loud at Luther for being such a dick. But even as I was doing it I was aware I was cussing out the writers, not the character. It's all good, though. There are many paths to enjoyment.

  2. Lucifer Season 4 was definitely an interesting watch. The main thing I remember about it is that they introduced liberal use of the F-bomb and it really felt 'Just because we can' rather than justified or in character. Like when a show on HBO in the first few episodes shows lots and lots of nudity and sex, 'Because we can!' it seems to shout.

    In any case -- as to why it's on Netflix is an easy enough thing: They picked it up for these last two seasons after the original network abandoned it.

    Season 5 (which I've started, but not yet finished) walks back some of the Season 4 changes and is the better for it, I think. Although the storyline (so far) has not grabbed me as much as the earlier stuff. Ah well.

    FWIW, I quite enjoyed both Titans and Umbrella Academy too. Titans I resisted watching a long time too, because my only exposure to the source material was *not*, as it was for you, with the older, grittier comics, but instead with the recent(ish?) kids cartoon due to my youngest watching and loving it, where it is all comedy all the time.

    This created a similar problem to what I imagine happened with Dr Who and the Torchwood spin-off though, where the mere mention of the fact that I was watching something Teen Titans related was enough to get my youngest super excited to watch it. But of course... Well; you've seen it. Absolutely not appropriate. It caters to a very different audience than what the other modern iteration did.

    In any case, having said that -- I can see your criticisms from this and the earlier post too.

    1. The extreme diversity of target audience between different iterations seems to be a peculiar problem of comics-related IPs. I wonder if it only happens in English-speaking territories, where the medium has a deep-rooted and seemingly ineradicable identity crisis. Even now, in the UK, it's not uncommon to hear the word "comics" prefaced almost uotonomically by the delimeter "children's". I'd be interested to know whether popular Japanese manga characters have the same problem. I would guess not.

      Swearing is another curious case. I have no problems with the most extreme sweariness when it works in furtherance of the character or narrative but I find swearing "because we can" intensely irritating. The justification usually is that it's how people talk but it's about as welcome as having characters say "umm" and "y'know" all the time. That would also reflect the way people really talk, but since smart people rarely find inarticulacy either big or clever, no writer or director fills a show with it just "because they can".

  3. You might enjoy "The Good Place" if you haven't seen it already. Starts "ok" and just steadily improves from there.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation. I just watched the trailer and it looks like a prospect. I'd seen the name before but it was so bland I didn't click through to see what it was about. Putting it on the watchlist.

      Titles are so important.


Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide