Saturday, May 28, 2005

Transcendent television

Recently I was blown away by an episode of my current TV obsession. I love House. It appeals to me beyond rational thought ... which I suppose could be a definition of love. And as with true love, I am not blind to its faults, but they don't take away from the attraction.

It's generally formulaic. The writers tend to be better at witty, intelligent dialogue and creating the character of Dr. Gregory House than overall plot, medical realism, and secondary character consistency. It neglects intriguing characters played by strong actors in favour of more screen time for those who look like they stumbled in from The O.C. set.

But the dialogue and the central character, played to astonishing perfection by Hugh Laurie, plus its emotional depths and thoughtful, complex exploration of issues, are more than enough to make this my favourite show since the early seasons of Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing. Even so, I didn't expect that it had “Three Stories” in it.

Talking with a friend after that penultimate episode of its first season, I mentioned it was now at the top of my list of best episodes of any television show, ever. “What else is on your list?” my friend innocently asked, causing me to stammer and backpedal and say, well, I don't have an actual list, you know, but “Three Stories” tops my hypothetical list.

Written by David Shore, the inventive episode delved into the past of Dr. House, revealing some of the source of his current bitterness without tying his personality up in a nice bow. House gives a lecture to med students, describing three cases of patients presenting with leg pain to illustrate a lesson not just in diagnostics, but in the frightening power and consequence of choice – intertwining the stories in a surreal, comedic way. Not until midway through the episode do we realize that one of the patients is House himself, and after following this compelling and complex character all season, this is a big payoff moment. The stunning power and pathos of the episode was seemlessly blended with the clever and silly humour, and the nonlinear structure supported it all perfectly.

David Shore also created and executive produces the show, and leads the writing team. But he didn't need any of that extraneous talent to become my next Sorkin-like idol. Writing this episode alone cements his place on a pedestal.


"Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind."
- Rudyard Kipling

Thursday, May 26, 2005

May random reviews

Books in brief:
  • Losing Gemma by Katy Gardner. The story of two friends travelling in India, told in flashback to explain why beautiful Esther feels responsible for underdog Gemma's death. The vivid writing saves this occasionally cliched story and its improbable ending.
  • The White Boy Shuffle by Paul Beatty. Hilarious, odd, and literately street savvy. Gunnar Kaufman is the privileged black misfit in his gritty urban neighbourhood, who becomes a basketball star and reluctant messiah of "his people." For a white girl from Canada, it was like entering a whole new world.
"In all matters of opinion, our adversaries are insane."
- Oscar Wilde

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Or maybe it's just the jet lag ...

Sometimes random thoughts swirl together in my little brain and try to collide into one cohesive idea. This time, my Unified Theory of Nothing Much brings together travelling, relationships and Venn diagrams. I have discovered my ultimate answer to life, and it's not 42. It's exploration.

I just got back from a vacation in Spain, whose historic Muslim influences most fascinated me, despite my having no ties to Islam. During the trip, I reluctantly ended up in a partly intriguing, partly agonizing two-week conversation about relationships, especially what draws us to people we may be incompatible with. That reminded me of a decade-old conversation with a former boss, who drew a Venn diagram for me to show his view on relationships: that we can only connect with others in the place where our experiences and interests intersect with theirs. But that doesn't work for me.

Exploring the differences, the otherness, of another culture, another language, another person - that's where the joy of life lies for me. Maybe that's why I choose to travel to destinations where I can't blend in and don't speak the language. It's not that I don't want to travel to England or more extensively in the United States. I do, very much. But my list of dream vacation destinations is far longer than my available vacation time and money, and the top of my list has always been dominated by non-English locations with cultures more different from my own. I'm blindingly pale, reasonably tall, and Canadianly reserved, yet I've been drawn to Latin countries over the last several years. In Spain, I didn't quite feel like the glow-in-the-dark Amazon woman I did in Latin America, but I was never mistaken for a local, and I struggled with the language more after encountering a mixture of Catalan and Spanish. Plus a short foray into France brought to light my pesky brain's binary language switch – English and Other – that had me throwing out long-forgotten French words while trying to speak Spanish.

Maybe we need the commonalities to make us comfortable, but comfort is overrated. I think we need the differences to keep us interested. I'd hate to travel in a world full of Canadas, much as I love my country. I'd hate to live in a world full of me – as would you all – or be romantically involved with my male equivalent. I want people and experiences to challenge me, expand my world, prove my preconceptions wrong.

"My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is, and why it exists at all."
Stephen Hawking