Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Nip/Tuck: Season Three Develops

We're now up to, I believe the tenth episode of Nip/Tuck's third season. I reviewed a couple of episodes from the beginning of the year, and I feel like those episodes were a bit too self consciously pushing the envelope, trying to present the most outre, controversial things, sometimes at the expense of the story. However, the most recent episodes have done a better job of making the characters relatable and continuing to push the characters forward.

One of the biggest problems with ongoing TV series is the tendency of the shows to always return to the status quo. So, change may last for a few episodes, or even a season, but in most cases you'll hear some interviews about how the show is going back to its roots, at which point everything will return to the status quo and the characters will be back where they started. After a lot of turmoil in season two, season three could have been an easy chance to get Sean back with Julia and return things to roughly the season one status quo. However, the producers didn't do this, they chose to continue moving the story forward, instead of retreating.

The story I've really liked is the De La Mer recovery spa development. Earlier in the year, I commented on how Julia was doing absolutely nothing, so this story was a good way to give her purpose and further mess with Sean's identity. She didn't need him emotionally before, but now she doesn't need him at all. She's completely independent. It was a bit ridiculous that she was so surprised Gina was having sex with people to get them discounts. It seemed pretty obvious that's what was going on. But that aside, it's a nice new development for the series and has a lot of dramatic potential.

The best character by far on the show is Christian, his stories are always much more interesting than what's up with Shawn. It's interesting that he's the more over the top and ridiculous character, yet almost all of the show's really strong emotional moments are his. Sean's story with the mob wife was alright, but the most affecting scene this year was when Christian was shut out of the graduation party. He's stuck in an unlivable position there, because no matter what he does, his mother will never love himor even be able to spend time with him. Another strong sequence was when he was left at the altar. The episode as a whole was a bit cliche, but it was pretty tough when Kimber left him.

But still, the show suffers from the fact that there's essentially no boundaries on the characters, so nothing can be that shocking. Drama, or comedy, usually comes from a character doing something they're not supposed to do. But these characters have no real ethical boundaries, so some of the stuff they do might be surprising, but nothing is as shocking as something like Lorne shooting Lindsey in the last episode of Angel. That worked because it wasn't something we'd expect from the character. There's definitely a desire to go after that shocking feeling all the time, but if you do, you wind up with a show where the audience is left numb and removed from the action.

That's still the show's basic problem, it's well made and always entertaining, but I'm never really drawn into the world, I watch it distanced from everything.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Education: Part II

So, last time, I discussed my vision for a new method of schooling. Now, I'm going to get in some of the issues surrounding it.

The problem with the write about what you want approach is the fact that whatever the school approves, students are not going to react against. So, even if they can write an essay about whatever they want, they'll still complain about the fact that they have to write an essay at all, and you'll still get the complaint that this has nothing to do with 'the real world.' And you'll also be getting a lot of complaints from parents, that students are missing out by not reading the classics. I'm not saying eliminate books from the curriculum, just expand out into films and graphic novels as well. We're not in a one medium time anymore, telling stories has moved beyond just the accepted books and theater

The other major problem is the fact that screening films in a 45 minute period is difficult. To really understand a film, you cannot watch it broken into chunks, that destroys all sense of pacing and momentum. So, I would say schools should offer mandatory additional screenings after school, so have class three days a week instead of five to make room for the screening. You could also try having students take out a DVD, but that would probably lead to a lot of people not watching the film, undermining the whole point of the initiative.

Obviously this whole plan is a bit centered on my interests and what I'd want from a school. I'm sure there's people out there who would say scrap English and get back to math and science at the core. I would argue that starting with high school, students should be broken into seperate math/science and English/history tracks, where you'd still get a bit of the other, but would primarily focus on your track. This way everyone can accelerate in their area and get more in depth, with the assumption that you actually want to learn about the stuff you're studying. This is much closer to college, where I take an occasional science course, but pretty much focus on film stuff, and it seems like high schools just want to be colleges, so it makes sense to emulate this model.

This would also alleviate some of the issues arising from a generalized acceleration track. Rather than creating a strict division between smart/'normal,' you'd end up with people doing what they're best in, and as a result somewhat evening the playing field. Obviously there's still discrepancy, but if you're in the English track, and aren't particularly strong in science, the science classes you take would be easier.

But what we'd probably see is people wanting to take the toughest courses in all subjects, either because they legitimately love learning, or more likely because they think that would look best on a college application. It's very difficult to create a new kind of curriculum because the need to teach AP courses means you're basically stuck to whatever they give you. Having gone to college, an AP course is nothing like a college course. You may learn roughly similar stuff, but the structure is so different, it's not at all comprable in terms of experience. So I would say remove APs and instead emulate a real college model and offer students more choice in terms of elective.

So, rather than have people learn general American history six times in twelve years, offer courses spotlighting specific chunks of history more in depth. And with English courses, you could do specifically targetted things, some focusing more on books, some on films and throw in a graphic novels course as well. I think that this would allow people to better develop their interests and engage more with the texts.

One of the biggest problems with my approach is it assumes that you have stuff you care about to begin with. If you're given the assignment to write whatever you want, you have to want to write about something, or else you're just back in the mode of getting assigned to do stuff. I'm someone who really likes writing, as evidenced by the fact that I'm writing this essay fro no apparent reason. However, I don't think most people really enjoy the act of writing, so even if they could write about their favorite thing, they wouldn't really enjoy it.

And then there's the fact that most people just don't care that passionately about things. I love films, so I make them, I did the film series at the library, backyard screenings, worked making a film, this summer was all about that. I'll call people and ask them to go see a film screening I set up, but I never get approached by other people for something they really care about. The closest thing to a passion most people have is for poker, and unless you really stretch it, I don't see an analytical essay coming out of a poker game.

So, perhaps a more targetted class system would allow people to better develop their interests. I think the other critical thing would be to not have a hierarchy, so don't offer Shakespeare as the class people 'should' take and then have film as a remedial type thing. It's got to be a total equality of the mediums.

However, even if administrators went for this, right now we've got a student population that's more concerned with getting into college than learning anything. That's what bothered me the most about high school, nobody really cared about the stuff we learned, they just wanted to get good grades and put stuff on their resume. I tried to 'keep it real,' and only do stuff that I actually enjoyed, nothing to just throw on the resume, and I pretty much succeeded. But going to a curriculum where learning is actually valued would likely upset the balance demanded by college admissions, and students are not going to endanger their chance to go to a good college just to learn something. And now at college I'm starting to hear more people worry about grades and grad school. I swear this was just happening, the past four years have gone by in a blur.

Bringing things to a close, one of the most striking things I remember about high school was towards the end I was hearing so many people say I wish I'd studied more, actually gone to class. At the end, they saw that there is merit in learning, but for a lot of them it was too late to really change things.

It's a strange time, high school, you spend your whole time there waiting to leave and once you leave, you can't help but lament not appreciating it while you were there. The experience you have at school is so much determined by the people in your classes and the teachers that it's impossible to institute a cure all curriculum, and what works for me might not work for other people.

I will say that things worked out well for me. Most of the science classes were extremely laid back, with a heavy emphasis on free periods to go on the computers, and that worked for me, it wasn't stuff I wanted to learn. My favorite classes were English classes, particularly senior year English, which is the closest to my fantasy curriculum. I got to write essays on pretty much whatever I wanted and there were some memorable learning related moments. In that class there were two assignments, one where you had to write about a song and one creative writing one where everyone got to share something of themselves with the class and there was a mutual respect in a critique of the pieces. I loved hearing peoples' creative writing pieces, the variety of subject matter and there was none of the usual not caring attitude, in that moment it was acceptable to be passionate about something and that's ultimatelly what life's about, finding something you're passionate and doing it.

So, if nothing else school should help people along that road, to find what they love to do and pursue it, so that you have a rewarding life. That's what school is really about, giving you the tools to learn for yourself.