Jargon Spotlight: Torchwood Plan

For those of you who have already read some of my various blog entries, you surely have some sense of my eccentric personality. One facet of said personality is a particular affinity for creating strange terms or utilizing obscure references for very specific sentiments, usually originating from TV shows, of course.

 

Showrunner Russel T. Davies doesn't mind ruthlessly killing off his team.

The members of Torchwood Three...membership subject to change without notice...

Now since I’ve reached the point where I’m very well aware of my own tendency to use these indecipherable expressions and quotations, I’m usually pretty good about either avoiding their use when communicating to people who won’t understand them, or at least offering enough explanation for people to follow whatever convoluted point I’m making. However, my “Dear Vampire Diaries” posts very pointedly follow a stream of consciousness pattern as I lay out my first impressions of watching this unfamiliar show, and as such on at least one occasion I know I’ve left something of a mystery for the uninitiated.

 

There’s an expression that has become common parlance amongst many of a friends (a group consisting largely of aspiring screenwriters such as myself, interested in discussing the finer points of storytelling). It’s an expression that I believe I technically coined, though its origins become fairly obvious once you understand the context. You see, today I aim to explain just what exactly a “Torchwood Plan” is and, believe it or not, it originates from a television series known as “Torchwood”.

 

I couldn’t exactly blame you for not being familiar with Torchwood, since it’s technically a British series, even though the American cable channel Starz helped produce its most recent series “Miracle Day”. Torchwood is both a spinoff and an anagram of “Doctor Who”, which is probably one of the most seasoned scripted TV series of all time. Although the ever-increasing popularity and influence of Doctor Who has definitely begun to spread to North America and other parts of world, its origin is also British, so I’ll take a step back and start with the very basics, since the point here is to have you understand what on Earth I’m talking about.

 

It also really saves the series when someone decides they want nothing to do with the franchise ever again *coughecclestoncough*

In addition to their time travel capabilities, Time Lords can also regenerate from near-death situations, but to do so will change their appearance. The Doctor has experiences this many times.

 

The Cliff’s Notes version goes something like this: The Doctor is an alien from a species (known as Time Lords) who have mastered time travel. Time Lords generally frown on interfering in the course of history, and take on a role as observers in time. The Doctor got bored with this, however, and likes helping people in need, so one day he stole a rather finicky Time/Space travel conveyance known as a T.A.R.D.I.S. At this point, The Doctor had pretty much all of time and space at his fingertips…so of course he spent a disproportionate amount of time in and around Great Britain. Of course with an entire universe in need of his help, even The Doctor can’t be around all the time to help us…that’s where Torchwood comes in.

 

Torchwood is the name of a secret quasai government-sanctioned organization, founded to defend the Earth against alien invasions. Torchwood has a few known branches/offices, but the series focuses on Torchwood Three, the branch located in Cardiff, Wales. In addition to their standard alien defense duties, Torchwood three monitors the unusual occurrences surrounding a nearby rift in space and time. Their leader, Jack Harkness, even has an incredible amount of experience dealing with aliens, since he was born in the distant future, sent back in time to the 1800s and is still alive in the present day. You see, Jack has some unique chronological properties that make him nearly indestructible and practically immortal.

 

Now with the kinds of technology and resources that Torchwood has been known to utilize, together with a leader of Jack’s description, you might think they’re the Men In Black times a thousand…and you’d be kind of wrong.

 

Torchwood has had four series (seasons for us yanks) at this point, two produced like a more typical TV series and two produced more like miniseries. I’m going to avoid an unnecessarily arduous, detailed and spoiler-ridden account of Torchwood continuity for the purpose of this discussion, and simply look at series three a.k.a. Children of Earth, in order to explain just what one must do to employ a Torchwood Plan.

 

The 456 simply ruined my last family reunion, we couldn't leave them alone with my cousins for five minutes without something terribly unsettling happening.

And you thought your deadbeat brother-in-law was a bad influence on your children! They ain't got nothing on the 456!

In Children of Earth, all the children in the world start acting strangely for precise intervals, until their strange behavior proves to be heralding the arrival of aliens known as the 456. After some unconventional negotiations with the government of Great Britain as well as some representatives from other governments of the world, the aliens reveal their true and unsettling motives causing great concern and discussions of considerable moral ambiguity amongst the civil servants.

 

Meanwhile the Torchwood crew, who were simply minding their own business while trying to perform their collective job, find themselves the target of a team of assassins. They manage to cheat death, but without some collateral damage. The team must also waste a bunch of their time trying to rescue each other instead of solving the alien mystery at hand, but they too discover what the aliens want.

 

It’s at this point, with the Torchwood team working out of a makeshift base, most of their resources unavailable to them and with the government considering them a threat to public interest that their leader decides they must make a stand against these creepy aliens.

 

It makes a certain amount of sense though, right? Torchwood was specifically created to deal with alien crises, and that’s what they’re up against now. Plus, Jack Harkness has more experience interacting with aliens and supernatural problems than you’ll ever have doing anything with your one measly lifespan. Surely he knows something the audience doesn’t know. Surely he has an idea of some exploitable weakness these aliens have, so he can force them off our planet. Surely Jack has a plan, any plan at all!

 

Well, he does. Unfortunately for everyone involved, it is THE quintessential Torchwood plan.

 

So Jack and his closest colleague force their way into the room where the governments’ representatives have been negotiating with one of the aliens, who has actually come down to Earth. Once there, Jack very forcefully tells the aliens that they won’t meet their demands or even compromise with them. He basically tells them where they can shove it.

 

The aliens, understandably annoyed by this, respond by killing a number of innocent people, to demonstrate that they can back up their threats. Meanwhile Torchwood cannot, and pretty much just watch all those people die, then retreat because they didn’t actually have any way of stopping the aliens in the first place.

 

For the record, I have no idea what's happening in this picture, thus easily making it the best candidate to post here.

It's like the sci-fi- equivalent of saying "Swiper no swiping!" and expecting the cartoon thief to set aside his criminal past for you.

Basically, Jack applies logic that occasionally stops a school bully from tormenting a child on a playground to an alien representing a technologically advanced and definitely hostile alien species making lofty life-or-death demands of an entire planet. They have no weapons, spaceships or technology capable of forcing the aliens to leave, or even reduce their demands, yet they charge in and tell the aliens to leave. I honestly don’t know what they expected to happen as a result of this encounter, they practically had the absence of plan.

 

So that’s the Torchwood plan that coined the term. A plan so terrible it absolutely ruined my enjoyment of that miniseries. They tried to threaten a powerful, destructive alien threat not to destroy humanity in the emptiest way possible, then were somehow surprised when it backfired HORRIBLY.

 

Granted, I think my annoyance with the Torchwood style of problem solving leads me to overuse the term somewhat, but any time someone enacts a plan with virtually no thought for the possible consequences, or even a full-bodied idea of how the plan will turn out in the best case scenario, you can bet that Jack Harkness is smiling to himself somewhere in space and time.

 

So now you know and, of course, knowing is a large portion of the battle, not quite totaling a majority.

Advertisements

Dear Vampire Diaries: Volume 6

Dear Vampire Diary,

 

Remember that time I asked why it is that becoming a vampire makes you inherently creepy? That was not a rhetorical question. Seems our friends Anna and Ben, that bartender (who strikes me as a vampire redshirt), haven’t just kidnapped Elena, but also Bonnie. In case you were unclear, serial kidnapping is definitely creepy.

 

If anti-virus software was this effective against invasions I might actually buy a PC again!

"Argh, this is the worst brain freeze I've ever experienced!" "Don't test me, or I'll show you my magical wet willie too!"

Holy crap! Bonnie’s grandmother just like gut-punched Damon with just her mind. “I’m not Bonnie” she says, and she’s not kidding. Bonnie’s response to Damon asking for witch help would probably have been to go willingly with Damon into an obvious trap or something.

 

Wow, maybe I should take that back! She just turned a glass of ordinary motel water into fire using just her mind and magic, to attack and escape from her vampire captor/ex-boyfriend. And she would have gotten away with it too, had she not let her best friend get taken hostage on the way out. Two steps forward, one step back. Plus, in fairness, it was MOTEL water, so it was probably pretty close to flammable to start with.

 

Once Stefan inevitably rescues the girls, they regroup at the casa del whatever the Spanish word for “witches” is. There they hatch a pretty terrible plan…actually no, what they do is resurrect the same terrible plan Stefan already pretended to have (helping Damon free Katherine, but kill the other vampires sealed with her). This time, though, they have an experienced witch agreeing to help. So really all they’ve managed to do is make their bad plan worse.

 

I feel like Stefan should at least already have his flamethrower ready, honestly!

"What could go wrong? We're just going to open the door to a magical prison containing 27 hungry, angry vampires." "Everything about that is wrong!"

Damon’s certainly a tough one to read. At first he was a full-blown sociopath, then he was just the irresponsible brother for a while and now he’s mellowed to the point that he’s practically a gentleman. I mean, I can’t remember the last time he compelled someone selfishly, not even when he took Elena to Georgia without her vervain. She even takes it off again to try and prove to him that she and Stefan really want to help him, and he just takes her at her word.

 

Jeremy finally opens up to his vampire stalker-ess (is there a female form of the word stalker?), and she responds by revealing that she’s leaving town suddenly for no plausibly defined reason. Well, unless you count her undead mother being resurrected by witches in an underground tomb. Then her thug boyfriend knocks him unconscious so he can meet the parent. You could have just asked!

 

You know, in a way, the Vampire Diaries take on teens and alcohol is refreshing. They just acknowledge that it exists. Now personally, I’m against alcohol period, so trust me when I say I’m not being biased about this point. But so many shows make such a big spectacle out of teen drinking one way or another. It’s kind of nice to see a show treat the issue in a way that seems more realistic. It’s around, no one’s surprised to see it at a party…it just adds to the totally realistic vampire slice of life story.

 

I notice the witches are wearing precautionary vervain necklaces, which gives me an excuse to make an aside here. If I live in a world full of vampires, I don’t think a thin metal chain would make me feel safe from their influence. They do have super strength, after all. For my money, I’d want it live woven into my clothes or something. That seems like a pretty good barrier.

 

Convoluted? Yes. Badass? Also yes.

"Oh my god it burns! We’re in a freaking forest, wouldn’t it have been easier just to stake me!?"

Generally I have to say I prefer Damon’s style as a character, but I can’t deny that Stefan has some pretty amazing moments himself. For example, clotheslining a vampire and then setting him on fire with a makeshift flamethrower.

 

I probably shouldn’t have sold Bonnie’s grandmother so short, after all she’s not Bonnie, just as she pointed out earlier. She didn’t even need a plan to compensate for Stefan’s bad idea, apparently the seal keeping the vampires in the tomb was unrelated to the door they opened using the witch ritual. This means all the vampires inside are still stuck inside, new ones can just enter.

 

When Stefan goes inside to try and save Elena from a whole slew of vampires – actually “slew” seems like a very fitting plural noun for vampires – Bonnie threatens to try and take the seal down herself to save him, if her grandma won’t help. I say let her try, she’s more likely to spontaneously turn into a newt than successfully pull off that spell.

 

Unsurprisingly, that whole “living corpse” thing they’ve been alluding to for a while now is pretty gross.

 

Damon discovers that Katherine isn’t in the tomb after all, and is rightfully pretty pissed. When Elena comes to fetch the boys while the witches are still keeping the seal at bay, he seems to think she’s Katherine for a split second. Which raises an unsettling thought. Assuming Elena is really related to Katherine, then if Damon dated Katherine and Stefan dated Elena, then they’d have all the creepiness of brothers dating identical twins AND brothers dating a mother and daughter. That’s some kinky stuff.

 

Aw, sad Damon’s no fun :(. He interrogates Anna and her mother, only to discover they knew the whole time that Katherine’s been loose. She’s known where to find Damon and didn’t care. Even vampires can’t escape the abusive vampire relationship cycle.

 

So let’s review Bonnie’s track record for the episode. She managed to get herself kidnapped by a guy she pretty much knew was a vampire, but then she cast a pretty cool spell. Of course her own incompetence undid the usefulness of said spell, but she got rescued anyway. With her grandmother’s help she managed to open the door to that tomb using an old ritual, enacting a trap that should have sealed all the vampires they know away forever. Bonnie persuaded her grandmother to assist her in breaking the seal to the tomb to save one vampire (Stefan) while releasing three potentially dangerous vampires, as well as permanently leaving the door open to the rest of those living corpse vampires in the tomb. Oh yeah, and the spell that broke free all of those man-eating vampires? It killed her totally awesome grandmother.

 

Bonnie sucks!

 

 

Dear Vampire Diary,

 

We’re back to business as usual, with our newly escaped vampire friend feeding on a human hiker in broad daylight. I actually really like the blocking here, where the camera focuses on the vampire’s hand as he kills that guy so we can see his lapus lazuli ring. Since we found out that Emily the witch enchanted those rings, it makes sense that the vampires from Mystic Falls back in the day would all be daywalkers. All the more reason not to let them escape the tomb for any reason, Bonnie!

 

Utilizing a laughably implausible series of deductions, Aunt Jenna has tracked down a high school yearbook photo of the woman who could well be Elena’s birthmother. You can tell they’re related because of their shared dark features and brooding expressions.

 

Does it really come as a shock that I watched The O.C. considering that I'm watching the entirety of Vampire Diaries?

"Hey, Melinda Clarke, I loved you as Julie Cooper on the O.C.!" "Thanks! Wish I could say the same about your work defiling my son and couch."

Oh good, a completely unmotivated scene’s worth of fan service between Caroline and Matt. And here I was worrying that I wasn’t going to see Caroline without a shirt on today. That sounds like sarcasm, but she’s cute so if she wants to take her shirt off I’ll allow it. Unfortunately even that won’t cause her or Matt to contribute anything worthwhile to the plot. It will, however, provide an awkward context for Matt’s loosely established mother to mysteriously come back to town. Oops.

 

All things considered, once they revealed that Alaric’s wife and Elena’s mother had the same first name, it seemed pretty much impossible for that to be a coincidence. When Aunt Jenna and Alaric hook up, there’s going to be a weird quasai-incestuous web to untangle.

 

Hey, good for Isobel! She’s the one person who managed to figure out that those “animal attacks” were the laziest cover-up in history. Also sort of explains why she got eaten by a vampire. Be careful what you wish for?

 

At least vervain is more versatile and less conspicuous than Kryptonite.

"Would you like one lump of vervain with your tea or two?"

Vervain is sort of starting to have that same disproportionate availability problem that Kryptonite has in the Superman world. I’m pretty sure they said it was pretty hard to come by, at least in Virginia, and now every Tom, Dick and Harry’s serving vervain tea with crumpets.

 

Seriously? This is our B-Story du jour? The founders are having a charity bachelor auction? That sounds more like a Desperate Housewives plot or something. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, Vampire Diaries, but I suspect someone(s) in the writers room was drunk.

 

I find this auction system confusing. They seem to be suggesting that you buy raffle tickets which then represent the cash value you spent on them, which you can use to bid on bachelors. Wouldn’t is be easier to just…have an auction?

 

With some help from the Sheriff, Damon pieces together that this Isobel woman everyone’s clamoring about is Alaric’s dead wife who he sort of ate. Of course, being Damon, he finds the most tasteless and humiliating way to confirm this fact for Alaric. I imagine Damon doesn’t know about his Saltzman Stake-o-Matic, cause I sure don’t want to mess with that and I’m not even a vampire.

 

Okay, so now I finally understand this date auction…as much as I’m going to. Looks like it is in fact a date raffle, with the winners of dates being chosen randomly, through a raffle system. This is awkward in so many ways. For one, you probably don’t raise as much money for charity this way and secondly people donating to the charity could get stuck on a super-awkward blind date.

 

No wonder the IMF only ever has a handful of people on staff!

I’ve heard of a message self-destructing after five seconds, but a messenger? That seems needlessly wasteful.

Pro tip, Isobel, when you don’t want to be found, but the only person looking for you already thinks you’re dead, sending a messenger to tell them you don’t want to be found is only going to make them want to look for you. You might as well tell me NOT to push a giant red button!

 

Alaric confronts Damon with a stake and learns that Isobel wasn’t killed, she was turned. He is then quickly killed by Damon and left for dead as his craziness renews his quest to find Katherine. “Quickly” here meaning both shortly thereafter and for a short amount of time, as a flashback vaguely explains that Alaric’s family heirloom ring isn’t lapus lazuli, but some sort of undeath ring. I wish my Cheerios had one of those in it!

 

Again, Isobel, when you send a self-destructing messenger to tell people that you’re alive, dumb things can happen. Like Elena stealing said messenger’s phone and using it to call you. This is why you can’t have nice things.

 

That one vampire who escaped discovers a halfway home for receased (re-undead?) vampires, run by Anna and her mother, Pearl. Whatever happens as a result of this is also Bonnie’s fault.

Dear Vampire Diaries: Volume 5

Dear Vampire Diary,

Vampire Pizza is very quick, but if you don't tip the delivery guys well then you'll become dinner.

“Hey, if I slip you an extra twenty, will you not come back and attack my sister?” “Hmmm, no promises.”

Here’s a reason to tell Jeremy about vampires: so he doesn’t invite the pizza guy into their home, thus allowing a shady vampire free access to Elena, who seems to be made of like vampire nip or something.

 

On that note, I don’t think we should really trust Jeremy at all. Don’t get me wrong, he’s been a much more interesting character since his vampire girlfriend died and he was hypnotized to forget about her, but he never even noticed the family heirloom pocketwatch go missing, and then he hands over that journal from his ancestor to Alaric without any hesitation. A book like that is probably very delicate…though he was carrying it around school in his backpack, so it may actually be better off.

 

At this rate I should just start writing “Jeremy Gilbert” in my vampire diary and dot the i’s with hearts…and probably put little vampire fangs on the m’s. Anyway, now he’s pushing away the cute home school girl because he’s hung up on his dead vampire girlfriend, who was a terrible influence and that he doesn’t even know is dead. If he’s not careful, this entry is just going to be reasons I hate Jeremy.

 

Remember that time all the vampires were going to leave town? I do. I know the Salvatores now have reason to stay, I just think it’s funny that neither of them ever really addressed sticking around, they just sort of didn’t leave.

 

Again, the Vampire Compass (TM) isn't very useful if the person most likely to drop by unannounced, your boyfriend, constantly gives you a false positive.

"Hey Elena, what’s hanging? Other than me of course! Hahaha, I crack myself up."

So the vampire pizza delivery boy comes back and tries to eat Elena, but he uses the oldest trick in the book to hide.

 

I think it’s kind of funny that people are finally on board with trying to kill Damon now that he’s mostly behaving himself, and occasionally being helpful.

 

Well, I was all set to congratulate Anna for having common sense once again for reprimanding Jeremy for giving out his journal indiscriminately, until she turned out to be a vampire. If I had a nickel for every time I ended a story with “until she turned out to be a vampire” I’d be a rich man.

 

It seems like people who get involved with vampires have a tendency to keep getting involved with vampires. First Caroline with Damon, then Logan and now Jeremy with Vicky followed by Anna. So according to my vaguely defined abusive vampire theory, some people are just the vampire type, and keep getting attracted without learning their lesson.

 

Turn-offs include responsible decision making and his physical and emotional well being.

Jeremy Gilbert: Turn-ons include candle-lit dinners, (super) strong, independent women and undead monsters who want to feed on him both literally and figuratively.

Anna’s vampire obsession seems weird now that we know she’s a vampire. Like, why bother trying to convince Jeremy that vampires exist when she knows they exist because she is one, and having people know about it is a liability.

 

Oh good, the journal that Jeremy irresponsibly lent his teacher contains a lead toward opening the tomb full of angry, hungry vampires. It seems weird to have Stefan be the one torturing this information out of Anna’s friend the, vampire pizza guy, though.

 

It’s a good thing that every single person in this world keeps a journal, because they seem to be a great source of vampire-related information. I’m surprised, though, that since the pilot they’ve always been referred to as journals and not diaries. That’s like having Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom take place in a regular old church. In theory they are similar concepts, but it’s just not the same.

 

So it looks like Anna has a vampire boyfriend, and together they’re trying to free all of the angry vampires too. This seems like a poor decision. I mean, taking care of an army of vampires is a big responsibility, you’ll have to feed them and walk them and clean up after them…did they really think this through?

 

 

Dear Vampire Diary,

 

So we get our episodic dose of cold open vampire attack in the form of a Flashback to Katherine-era Mystic Falls. Despite all of Stefan and Damon’s talk of their rivalry over Katherine, this is the first time I really sense the drama behind it. We’ve already seen the moment when Stefan got turned against his will, but now we see Damon asking to be turned and Katherine forcing him to wait.

 

This whole scene with Damon intruding on Elena and Stefan’s morning-after-glow raises an uncomfortable point about vampires cohabitating. You thought it was bad hearing your roommate going at it? Try hearing every agonizing detail with your super senses. I now have the heebie jeebies.

 

For a hundred and forty five years Damon has ruined Stefan’s happiness every chance he’s gotten. Isn’t there an expression that goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me consistently over the course of a century and a half, shame on me”?

 

"Look, It even tells the time! Oh no, wait...yeah it's just broken."

"Behold, I've invented a device to track vampires!" “What is it, Magic?” “No! It operates on Newtonian laws of Vampires...shut up.”

I’m glad that even people in 1864 called shenanigans on the vampire compass, though it’s kind of concerning that the people of Mystic Falls have either gotten dumb or complacent enough to just accept these sorts of things. Like “animal attacks” and “large quantities of people leaving town suddenly for no reason”.

 

Woops! Apparently papa Salvatore was a vampire hunter. I bet that made Thanksgiving dinners pretty awkward.

 

Okay, now I certainly had my reservations at first, but Saltzman is definitely shaping up to be an awesome character. He’s the only person who really seems to grasp the vampire threat, and can handle himself against them. Plus, apparently he invented some sort of anti-vampire stake cannon fit for a really sweet action cartoon.

 

It just occurred to me that Katherine is a daywalker, despite inferences in the present that only Damon and Stefan can use their magical decoder rings to eat lunch at outdoor cafes and such. She must be the source of their vaguely explained power!

 

I hear he's already developing an automatic version due for release in time for Christmas this year!

The Saltzman Slay-o-Matic 5000, available at all fine sporting goods retailers.

Woah, wait, vampires can parlay their reflexes into super video game playing power!? Imagine the quality of my Let’s Plays if I just added some human blood to my diet!

 

Ah-ha! There we go! Emily is apparently the one responsible for whatever nondescript enchantment on those rings lets vampires survive sunlight. Between that and whatever deal she made with Damon to release those vampires from the tomb, I’m finally starting to see the family resemblance to Bonnie.

 

Looks like Anna, Jeremy’s socially awkward, vampire-obsessed vampire stalker is actually Annabelle, Katherine’s vampire friend’s vampire daughter. Whether or not you managed to follow that description to understand the relationship, I think you and I can both agree that we’re finally delving into soap opera grade relationship territory.

 

Shucks, looks like the Damon/Stefan partnership built on a foundation of lies has finally crumbled. The brothers met at their father’s grave since it turns out his vampire hunter status led to him being entrusted with the Grimoire with the spell which can open the tomb. This confrontation, in turn, facilitated possibly the least plausible moment of the series so far; an emo teenage girl with vampire blood forced into her system NOT trying to kill herself to gain eternal life as a vampire.

 

"Oh no, don't make me a vampire. While you're at it, you better not have hot vampire sex with me, that would be 'terrible'".

"Hold the phone, if I die right now I get to be a vampire? This seems like a win-win to me, a typical emo teenage girl."

I hope at some point they explain why Emily wanted to put herself on the line to help out a bunch of vampires. Isn’t just being a witch dangerous enough in the 1800’s? And if they were all such good friends, why didn’t they turn her so she could be a vampire witch? In the rock paper scissors game of witch, werewolf, vampire, I’m pretty sure vampire witch trumps all.

Lidsville – Part 1: World in a Hat

The following are the only known recorded history to survive Lidsville. No one knows their origin, but intelligent individuals know not to ask.

 

 

A lesser man than Mark surely could not have survived the first night surrounded by waking nightmares.

What little knowledge we do have about Lidsville comes mostly from the writings of Mark, the only known human to step foot into the world of living hats.

(An entry from Mark’s Journal)

 

Day 1

 

Why did I go in the hat? The second it began to grow, I knew it was trouble. I was terrified! But it was like a train wreck…in that once it hits you, you die and are sent to a place of unimaginable suffering.

 

Before the horror of this place could even truly set in, I was captured by a band of bad hats. Oh lord, I’m already making hat puns. Lord have mercy on my soul. After accusing me of being a spy, the pirate, vampire, gangster and executioner dragged me to an enormous top hat, and introduced me to Raunchy Rabbit. Raunchy seems to have difficulty communicating without the use of puns, pratfalls and generally bad jokes. Can’t say I blame him, this place could easily warp a fragile mind.

 

Then a gaudy, green-skinned Wizard of Oz reject arrived in a flying hat, complaining about “the hat people” and complaining that he didn’t even collect one hat check.

 

I already hated that man.

 

His name, which I would come to both know and fear, was Horatio J. Hoodoo. Just like his bad hats, Hoodoo accused me of being a spy. I tried to explain that I didn’t know any hat people, thinking this was some jive talk I hadn’t heard before. Hoodoo was skeptical and brought me into his lair, seating me in the most comfortable chair he could find in order to interrogate me. I thought it was a joke at first, until the torture began.

 

Mark Wasn't Expecting the Bloody Spanish Inquisition from Hoodoo.

This historian notes a similar methodology between Hoodoo's torture methods and those of Monty Python's portrayal of the Spanish Inquisition.

Living behind a curtain in the dark wizard’s home live a band of singing hats, known as the Hat Band. Of all the terrors in this world of living hats, they will be the thing to haunt my dreams forever.

 

Using the Evil Eye, some sort of magical television, Hoodoo showed me these hat people he talked about earlier. Half human, half hat…they truly were hat people. I resisted the urge to be physically ill.

 

The multitude of minions who live around Hoodoo’s lair suggested he employ physical torture on me to learn my secrets. Instead he summoned Weenie the Geenie from his magical ring. When I first learned this I was incredulous. What does a wizard even need with a genie anyway? Surely that’s overkill! Making matters more confusing, Weenie was merely instructed to take me to the cellar, a task that clearly didn’t require magic.

The backhanded compliments with which this genie exalted his master made me think I could trust him…or her. To be honest, I’m still not quite sure what Weenie is. I explained to Weenie that I was merely lost, I wanted to return to the world in the sky; the world that I came from; the REAL world.

 

At first, Weenie didn’t even believe that such a place could exist. What a wretched life it must be, thinking that Lidsville is all there is! Eventually, though, I convinced him to join my quest to go back to the real world…so long as I could retrieve his ring.

 

This plan probably explains why Hoodoo, even being an evil wizard, makes for a very ineffectual landlord.

For someone who lives in a magical world of hats, Hoodoo seems surprisingly uninformed about how hats work...and surprisingly well-informed about Earth-based puns.

Luckily for me, at that exact moment Hoodoo was hatching the worst revenge plot in the history of the universe. “What do hats fear the most?” he asked his minions, rhetorically, “They fear bad weather!” Aren’t hats specifically made to endure weather conditions? Either way, Hoodoo conjured a magical chest of drawers which can alter the weather, known as the Weather Bureau.

 

For some reason, using the bureau prompted Hoodoo to remove the magical genie ring. For the first time since stumbling into this awful place, fate smiled on me, as that ridiculous rabbit from earlier accidentally caused a snowstorm inside, giving me a chance to grab the ring and escape with Weenie. Well, in theory.

 

It seems Weenie’s confidence has been shaken after years working as one of Hoodoo’s minions, so his ability to perform magic is miserable…at best. He wanted to use magic to get away from Hoodoo’s hat home, but he couldn’t remember the magic word. I wanted to just run. We had the time, why not put some distance between ourselves and Hoodoo? Unfortunately I couldn’t, it was if Weenie were emanating some aura of incompetence that affected me, quickly ridding me of my common sense.

 

Since we were mere steps outside Hoodoo’s door, he quickly caught up to us, and threatened to zap us with his dark powers. Luckily Weenie remembered a word that would transport us magically and save the day! Again, in theory.

To say this would be the only time Weenie's magic caused problems would be a bald-faced lie.

From the sounds of this "Lidsville" place, Mark may have been better off taking his chances in the deadly suds of the Shampoo River.

 

Weenie’s spell actually dropped us onto a tree branch suspended above the “Shampoo River”, leaving us hanging on for dear life. At least that’s the impression Weenie gave me, claiming that the river would “suds us to death”, should we fall in.

 

I already hated that genie.

It turned out we were close to Downtown Lidsville, where the hat people reside. Hearing our cries for help, they dispatched a beanie hat named Tiwrly, whose propeller actually allowed him to fly.

 

I thanked the hats for their help, but had no intention of staying in this horrible place. I had no plan, and no clue where I was going, but I had to go somewhere else. They insisted that there was no world outside of Lidsville, but they filled a sack with “supplies” (which seemed to be a collection of whatever was within arms reach) and got a motorcycle-riding motorcycle helmet named Mother Wheels to give us a lift out of town.

 

Turns out Hoodoo was ready for us, as his Bad Hats set up a detour sign and the most pathetic ambush I’ve ever heard of. The worst part is that it worked! It’s like being in proximity to Weenie is making me dumber! If I just had the sense to run from these slow and awkward villains I’d be free and clear. Once again Weenie barely got us out of trouble by creating a smokescreen whose effectiveness was a perfect match for their ambush. Sadly there was no place to go but Downtown Lidsville.

 

For example, Hoodoo can create lighting from his fingertips. Surely that's all the incentive he would need to collect his precious taxes, so how is he such a failure?

Judging by Mark's descriptions, it seems the laws of physics and even logic may work differently in Lidsville. Perhaps ONLY terrible plans have a chance of success there.

It wasn’t long before Hoodoo showed up in his hat-themed aircraft known as the Hatamaran and started trying to zap all of the residents of Downtown Lidsville. The hat people responded to Hoodoo’s attack by throwing fruit, sporting equipment, cookware…pretty much the same garbage they gave me as supplies earlier, at Hoodoo. Clearly that Hatamaran is a shoddy piece of engineering, as it malfunctioned from this pathetic assault, and caused Hoodoo to bail into the shampoo river.

 

I can’t help but notice that Hoodoo survived his plight with the river. Along with all of his mistakes before, I have to wonder if I can trust that Genie. Weenie used to work for Hoodoo after all. Perhaps he’s a double agent.

 

With Hoodoo out of the way for the time being, the hats offered to let me stay and town and help me find a way home. I begrudgingly accepted the generosity of these monsters. When I did, I even said “I’d take my hat off, if I had one”, assuming that this must surely be offensive to hat people. They didn’t notice.

 

I hope this place doesn’t make me mad as a hatter…damn it! It may already be too late.

Dragon Ball Z Kai – The Adaptation Anomaly

 

So as it turns out, despite having the notes for the update I had planned for today, my ability to focus is drastically undermined by the crash I’m experiencing from an abundance of productivity over the course of this week. As a result, I’m going to go off topic again to discuss something I find both strange and intriguing.

 

Come to think of it, a lot of DBZ's villains parallel Superman's in some way. I smell an international lawsuit!

Man, if you thought the origin story of Superman was weird, wait until you get a load of Japan's take on it.

Dragon Ball Z Kai.

 

Now for anyone who’s not a member of my generation, I’m going to start by trying to explain vaguely what Dragon Ball Z is. Woof, this is going to be tough.

 

Well Dragon Ball Z is an anime from the late 80’s that was dubbed into English and became popular here in America during the 90’s. I’d venture a guess that it caught on to main stream American culture more than nearly any other anime. This guess is based largely on the percentage of strangers I’ve talker to who are familiar with the series to some degree, but all things considered it seems like a reasonable test.

 

Anyway, the story of Dragon Ball Z picks up where another anime, Dragon Ball Left off. Dragon Ball was largely an action-adventure anime with some strong martial arts influences. It was the story of an unusual boy (with a tail) who was found by a farmer Clark Kent-style and raised by him. After his caretaker’s mysterious death, he’s found by someone hunting for Dragon Balls, magical spheres that can grant you one wish from a dragon if you gather all seven of them together.

 

The one constant about Dragon Ball Z villains is that they're gross-looking and you're glad they're not real.

Alien, robot or alien-robot? You decide!

Dragon Ball Z itself focuses much less on the Dragon Balls and more about the characters. The protagonist from the last series (named Goku) discovers that the reason he had a tail was because he’s actually an alien. Goku discovers ways to tap into his alien heritage to increase the arbitrary number (called a power level) that determines how intimidating you are to boastful villains. With some minor help from friends he gathered along the journey of the first series, as well as a villain who eventually discovers a heart of…silver maybe, Goku defends the Earth against aliens and robots.

 

So for anyone who tried to watch this series as episodes were being released, you’re probably familiar with perhaps the most annoying feature of this anime. The incessant stalling. You know how on reality shows like American Idol there are results shows that drag on and on, stretching one fact you want to learn into a painful hour of television? Yeah, Dragon Ball Z invented that. I distinctly remember a part of the story where Goku was supposed to show up and help his friends not die at the hands of an alien tyrant and his army and someone stating “he’ll be here in five minutes”. It took him no less than three episodes to arrive. Maybe now you’ll look at Ryan Seacrest in a new light…nah, who am I kidding?

 

However, within the last few years, whoever is in charge of Dragon Ball Z had a very interesting idea. They re-edited and re-released the series under the name Dragon Ball Z Kai. You’re probably wondering, “What changed when they edited it?”. To be honest? Almost nothing.

 

I hope you like shirtless, grunting men, because that took up a ton of time before Kai happened.

There's an old joke that goes, "How many Dragon Ball Z characters does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "Just one, but it will take them five episodes".

Let me clarify, the story doesn’t seem to be altered in any significant way, but they cut out all of the unnecessary stalling bits so now the show is almost pure action, excitement and story.

 

It’s a really interesting idea, and I wonder if it will ever have any merit for American television. I mean, they already have recut versions of movies here in America. Seriously, how many distinct versions of Blade Runner are there?

 

Since I’m already in tangent town, I’ll say what I’m really thinking about the concept of “Kai” editing. I would like to ask my hero, Eiichiro Oda, to consider releasing such an edit for one of my all-time favorite shows, One Piece.

 

Great, now I have to explain One Piece…no, you know what, explaining One Piece is super easy. One Piece is about pirates who have super powers. They’re mostly all trying to procure money and/or fame, some by finding the deceased king of pirates’ hidden treasure, but honestly pirates with super powers is the gist of what you need to know.

 

Honestly, I’ve never seen a TV show on this epic scale. Eiichiro Oda has created an actual entire world populated by unique islands, cultures, technologies…it’s almost like he traveled to another world, came back and made an anime based on his notes. It’s preposterously immersive.

 

Not to mention the fact that One Piece has some of the most creative uses of super powers I've ever seen.

If the idea of "pirates with super powers" doesn't make you at least vaguely interested in watching a show, then you and I probably won't be very good friends.

Now that I’ve penned a few verses for my love song about One Piece, it’s time to tie up this mess of an entry. You see, I had the good fortune of getting into One Piece on the ground floor. I was a Shonen Jump subscriber and read the manga (aka Japanese comic book/graphic novel) on which the show is based as it was first being translated into English. Because I love the show so much, I’ve often tried to get my friends interested, but I’m usually met with some resistance.

 

I can understand why, even setting aside the fact that to be current on the show you’ll have to watch in Japanese with subtitles, which can get tiring even for people who can deal with subtitles, there’s the issue of length. As of this writing, there are 537 episodes of One Piece. Assuming an average runtime of 22 minutes, that’s almost 197 hours of that show, which has just passed a self-imposed halfway mark.

 

As much as I love One Piece, I have to admit that there’s an awful lot of filler, recap, clipshows and just generally unnecessary material along the ride through its 537 and counting episodes. Someday I think it will be best for everyone if we trimmed some of the fat and made this great series more streamlined and accessible for the masses.

 

Then I can finally make my friends understand all of my obscure references! Nah, who am I kidding?

Dear Vampire Diaries: Volume 4

Dear Vampire Diary,

 

Logan, that news reporter who cheated on Aunt Jenna, is very insistent on being invited into her house. He’s clearly a vampire, but since he hasn’t used the ability to compel her to invite himself in, I suspect that doesn’t work. He may also just be a lousy vampire…and really, those two things aren’t mutually exclusive.

 

Oh, hey, an old-fashioned vampire attack to close out the cold open! It’s been a while since we’ve seen one of those. I don’t know if that was supposed to come as a surprise, but repeatedly asking someone to invite you in isn’t something that not-vampires do very often.

 

Since Damon and Stefan have both declared intentions to leave town, the brothers discuss where they’ll go next. Damon suggests the two try out for the Amazing Race. This idea is AWESOME! You try and honestly tell me that you wouldn’t watch a pair of vampires race around the world performing a series of challenges.

 

You know, despite the whole cougar explosion a few years back I’d say American culture gets pretty iffy about age differences in couples, and especially with high schoolers. Despite this, I rarely hear people say anything about 162 year old guys making eyes at high school girls in vampire fiction.

Is their like a wooden bullet wholesaler or something? Where does Logan keep getting these things?

“How do you walk in the sun?” “Who turned you” “How do you walk in the sun?” “I’ve seen this tree before!”

 

So the Sheriff is not only the head of local law enforcement, but also a member of a secret vampire hunting organization, yet when hunting vampires she’s unprepared. Meanwhile newscaster Logan, admittedly also a member of said secret organization, who is minding his own business and probably disoriented from being turned into a vampire is totally ready to slay some liches (get it? undead joke). I think this town may need an emergency election.

 

I really do enjoy seeing the Salvatore brothers working together. You know what they say, “the family who murders vampires together out of clandestine self-preservation, stays together”. It sounds wittier in the original Latin.

 

Does Caroline have some sort of Vampire magnetism? Honestly. First Damon, now Logan? Does she just have the best blood or something?

 

Man I really appreciate Damon’s ability to play every angle. He’s got Stefan helping him take down Logan, he’s got Logan helping him try to free Katherine behind Stefan’s back, and all the while he’s got the Sheriff in the palm of his hand. If I was playing a game or sociopathic mastermind in gym class I would pick Damon first every day of the week.

 

I object, on the grounds that Bonnie has cornered the market on blatantly obvious supernatural things!

“What’s your problem, man?” “Judging by this incredibly transparent camera angle, I’m probably going to become a werewolf.”

For some reason Jeremy is suddenly intent on trying to be friends with Tyler, the other guy who was sleeping with his dead vampire girlfriend. Saltzman breaks up a fight between them (instigated by the mayor, for some reason), then we’re presented with what’s likely to be the least subtle  moment of foreshadowing I’ve ever seen.

 

Elena asks Stefan not to leave town because she loves him. This immediately degenerates into a makeout session, which in turn evolves into this weird emotional casserole of sweet, gratuitous and horrifying. Vampires are so complicated, no wonder they’re so emo all the time.

 

Episode ten and the main love interests have already had sex. They just don’t make vampire romances like they used to. It’s okay, though, this relationship can’t last long without derailing.

 

I’m not really sure what to make of the unreasonably suspicious Alaric Saltzman now. He gallantly came and staked Logan after keeping Jeremy out of trouble at the school’s career night. He seems to play the good guy vampire part way better than Stefan. Though he just sort of left the dead Vampire out for the world to find, so he’s not so bright.

 

I can’t decide if all this vampire trauma is going to give Caroline a thick skin or a psychotic break. At this point, I’ll say even odds, but when the vampires stop compelling her to be okay with everything, all bets are off!

 

Again, if there’s one major thing I would say about this show, it’s that they deal with the whole emo vampire thing really well. Both Stefan and Elena are inherently dramatic people who rarely smile or find anything about life that won’t give them an angst fit. Yet when they’re together, they both definitely liven up (especially in the case of the undead guy). I really appreciate the subtlety of the character direction on this show.

 

Whoops! There it is, Elena found the photographic evidence that Stefan’s been stalking her all along. The photo of Katherine. That ought to jam a wrench in this relationship for a few episodes. I definitely understand her reaction of running away, but she PROBABLY shouldn’t have taken off her anti-vampire necklace. Or crashed her car into what was probably a vampire.

 

 

Dear Vampire Diary,

 

Alaric Saltzman has a vampire diary!? In it he writes about killing Logan, but he implies not only that he isn’t a vampire, but also that he’s never seen one. If he’s not a vampire and has never seen one, then why does he have that Lapus Lazuli ring?

 

"Oh, and I notice you aren't protected from my mind control any more. Today's going to be a lot of fun!"

"Good morning! Hope you don't mind that I took the liberty of kidnapping you and crossing state lines while you were sleeping!"

Well that’s a creepy wake-up call! Damon saves Elena from the car crash after she fled Stefan’s place, then tosses her in the passenger side of his car and drives to Georgia. Oh great, and he stole her phone AND he noticed she doesn’t have her anti-mind control necklace. Girl needs some Folgers in her cup to start turning this morning around.

 

You have got to be kidding me! Bonnie finally has a chance to do something useful without the ghost of her dead ancestor possessing her body and her witch powers have inexplicably disappeared. My frustration with her character has reached the point of complete irrationality.

 

Gina Torres? Cool! Making out with Damon? Well…he is as charming as he his dangerously unpredictable, and he did kill his brother’s best friend to cover his own murder spree. Also, she seems to be a witch, guess we’re having a witch episode.

 

Okay, so according to Bonnie’s grandmother, the reason Bonnie can’t use her powers is because her fear of vampires is blocking them off somehow. If fear shuts off witchcraft it doesn’t seem terribly practical.

 

Elena seems to have defeated the entire bar where Damon has taken her at a drinking contest, even though she is a relatively small girl.

 

Elena had a rough morning, for sure, but Damon’s having a whole bad week. First Logan shot him like a dozen times with wooden bullets, now Lexi’s Vampire boyfriend is beating him to a pulp with a wooden plank, soaking him and gasoline and is threatening to light him on fire. It’s a good thing that wasted Elena is a master conflict mediator.

 

Well, that was a short-lived cameo for Gina Torres, but at least she didn’t die twice in the first two episodes of the series, like Alan Tudyk did on V. Those Firefly alumni have it rough.

 

You know, I have to concede that for all this show’s teenage flights of over-emotional self-indulgence, when it really counts the characters generally have normal, human reactions. When Elena finally gets back to Stefan to confront him she’s like, “okay I can deal with vampires and witches, but why didn’t you tell me about your creepy fascination with that woman who looks exactly like me?” Honestly, that seems reasonable to me, given all she’s seen she pretty much HAS to deal with the supernatural, but this is something Stefan had some control over.

 

"At least if I get amnesia it will temporarily cancel out all of these other cliches."

"So you're telling me that people I know who die are fairly likely to come back to life and I effectively have an evil twin? I'm dangerously close to becoming self aware about out soap opera!"

What’s worse than finding out that your boyfriend is mainly interested in you because you look like his dead vampire girlfriend, you ask? Well, how about finding out that he saved you from the car accident that killed your parents, but didn’t have time to save them too? Oh, oh, and while we’re at it, after the car accident your resemblance to said vampire girlfriend cause him to actually stalk you for about a year to “learn everything he could about you” to make sure you weren’t actually her? Oh, and one more thing, apparently Elena was also adopted. Yeah, she’s having a memorable day…

 

Okay, so I haven’t mentioned this, but Jeremy’s spent the episode’s B plot making friends with a slightly awkward home schooled love interest (Anna). I bring this up now because she, being one of the few people in town with a reasonable excuse for not having an abundance of common sense, seems to be the one person who’s realized that the town’s frequency or horrible animal attacks is both alarming and unusual. Everyone in town should be ashamed.

 

We end the episode coming full circle on that flashback Alaric had about his girlfriend/wife/non-descript significant other. He sees Damon and it reminds him of that time that Damon fed on the woman of ambiguous romantic relation to Alaric. Oops!

The Best Part of a Complete Breakfast

I can only assume they were discontinued after the bear detectives lost their badges.

I defy you to find a better, (mostly) healthy breakfast treat!

I’ve been very busy lately, so please excuse the randomness and brevity of this update, but this has been bothering me recently. Am I the only one who remembers Undercover Bears?

 

You see, I’ve been on a bit of an oatmeal kick recently, mostly because I had some instant oatmeal in my pantry and I have been seriously procrastinating my next trip to the grocery store, but I used to love oatmeal! I mean, that’s half the reason I had instant oatmeal in my pantry in the first place. The other half being my hope that oatmeal’s magic cholesterol destroying properties will somehow mitigate the rest of my awful diet.

 

Anyway, I’ve had a lot of oatmeal and it got me to thinking about how I first came to love oatmeal. To the best of my recollection, it all started with Undercover Bears.

 

Undercover Bears was an instant oatmeal from the early 1990s that contained what were essentially gummy bears disguised by an oatmeal coating. When you stirred hot water in to warm the oatmeal, you would find the gummy bears in your oatmeal and your day would be off to a fantastic start. There was a variety of flavors amongst the hidden gummy bears, but the brown sugar bears were clearly the best.

 

Here’s the commercial, though the only place I could find it was in a 90’s commercial compilation on YouTube:

 

 

Tragically, Undercover Bears was a short-lived General Mills product, leaving a void in my breakfast that would be hard to fill. My ever-vigilant mother found something that would come close, though. It was another General Mills instant oatmeal by the name of Oatmeal Swirlers:

 

 

Any long-time readers out there can probably surmise that I like to doodle, and doodling something delicious on top of oatmeal is a pretty great idea. It wasn’t quite as good as having cartoon bear candy in my hot cereal, but it definitely placated me for a while, and sustained my interest in oatmeal.

 

You might be asking, "but Vasco, isn't that just flavored goop on top of oatmeal? Can't you just do that yourself?" Clearly you have no soul, and probably don't even believe in Santa Claus. I pity you.

Eventually though, Oatmeal Swirlers also vanished from my life. To be honest I don’t remember if they discontinued oatmeal swirlers before my young attention span caused me to lose interest in them. Either way it’s certainly a case of not appreciating what I had until it was gone. For many years I didn’t have oatmeal, I mean, what’s the point if there aren’t any awesome gimmicks aimed at young children to pique my interest?

 

Well there was at least one more trick up the instant oatmeal industry’s sleeve, though this time it came from Quaker, the Amish master of oats. I don’t remember how all the pieces fell into place, but I can certainly make an educated guess.

 

I imagine my Mom one day, through some combination of nostalgia and that vigilance I mentioned earlier, saw this product on the shelf and bought a box just in case. It’s possible I saw a commercial for it first and made mention of it to her, but knowing my Mom I’m inclined to give her the lion’s share of the credit for such awesome discoveries.

 

Anyway, she probably kept the box in her pantry for a while until I suddenly wanted something for breakfast (I usually don’t get up until relatively late, or don’t have much appetite until lunch, despite my love of breakfast foods), or perhaps my Mom merely suggested it one day. Yeah, I can picture that…

 

“Remember when you used to eat oatmeal? Yeah, you LOVED it as a kid! Well, I found this:”

 

 

Apologies since, again, the only evidence I could find of the commercial was in the midst of a YouTube commercial compilation. This time it’s fairly low quality as well, but hopefully it gets the point across.

 

Basically, Dinosaur Eggs is like Undercover Bears in that you add hot water and something wonderful happens if you appreciate awesome things like cartoon bears and dinosaurs. This time a yogurt-like egg-shaped coating dissolves to reveal tiny sugary dinosaur shapes. On paper, this should be much more awesome than Undercover Bears, but if I’m honest this is my least favorite of the three.

 

Don't let a mother dinosaur catch you eating a bowl, she will wreck your house to protect her sugary babies!

This is such a great idea that I'm sure I would have been blown away were I still a child when I discovered them. Alas, I had already been spoiled on Undercover Bears.

It’s not that Dinosaur Eggs oatmeal is bad, it’s just…a little underwhelming. You see, the dinosaurs, while awesome, are very small. In a way it’s nice because you’re incentivized to go digging for them, but to me it’s more like a disappointment when you find them. Also, unlike the Undercover Bears’ bears and the Oatmeal Swirlers’ doodle goo (hmm, there’s probably a better name for that…) the dinosaurs don’t add any flavor. They’re pretty much sugar flavored, like those dipping sticks in Fun Dip.

 

Nothing against the other gimmicky instant oatmeals, but I feel like the fad peaked early. Undercover Bears was the best, and as far as I’m concerned is the reigning champ. The others had their own merits, but if I had my choice I would certainly pick some maple flavored gummy bears.

 

Of course I don’t have my choice, and only one of the three appears to still be on the market, the Dinosaur Eggs. So if you’re a dinosaur buff and an oatmeal fan, or even just an aspiring archeologist, then have I got hot cereal for you!