Netflix and BBC’s Troy Falls Into Mediocrity

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Image Source: http://www.newonnetflix.info

I have a deep love of the classics, although my experience skews toward Latin and the Aeneid, which are about the Romans. However, Romans were big fans of copying everything the Greeks did. Virgil, who wrote the Aeneid, was heavily influenced by the Greek blind poet Homer, and his Iliad and its sequel, the Odyssey.

It’s arguable that these two epic poems are the foundation of Western literature. And I can tell you that like the Aeneid, the Iliad and the Odyssey are really, really good. So I saw there was a joint BBC-Netflix production of Troy and I was ready to dig into eight episodes of siege-worthy glory.

But, for the first time in a really long time, I’ve been sorely disappointed by a BBC production. (If you look at the IMdB reviews, you’ll see others are a lot more salty than I am.)

Here are my issues:

Factual errors

Everyone knows that the fall of Troy is about Paris, prince of Troy, and Helen, who abandoned her husband Menelaus and their daughter in Sparta to be with Paris, sparking an international incident that led to a 10-year-siege. The city eventually falls when Trojans, starving, encounter a wooden horse on the beach they think the Greeks have deserted. They determine the horse is an offering to the sea god, Poseidon, and contains grain and bring the horse into the city walls. The horse also served as a vehicle for a select group of Greeks, who were unknowingly and personally escorted into enemy territory by the enemy. The army returns to the beach and Troy is destroyed.

(That’s a simplistic overview, I know.)

Paris has several brothers and a sister, Cassandra. According to Greek myth, Cassandra is cursed with the gift of foresight–yet no one believes her and writes her off as a madwoman. Apollo, the sun god, cursed her after she refused to sleep with him. In the miniseries, Cassandra has visions of the future as a child. Her parents are indulgent and although she lives in isolation as a teen and young adult, her sisters-in-law and Paris eventually turn to her for advice when the war starts to go south. However, Aimee-Ffion Edwards, who portrays Cassandra, does an excellent job and is well cast.

Before the Greeks leave for war, they offer a sacrifice to the goddess of the hunt, because they were hunting Helen. The priest gets a visit from the goddess, who determines that the usual fare of doves and other small animals are not enough and demands the daughter of King Agamemnon. It’s easily the most striking plot development in the early episodes of the season, and Odysseus spells out why: By killing his own daughter, Agamemnon will be in such pain he will be utterly despondent to his enemy; it will make him that much more of a ruthless killer. The priest refers to the goddess as Diana, which is the ROMAN name for Artemis, who the Greeks would have been trying to appease. That’s just downright sloppy and there’s no way that should have made it into the first draft of the script, much less the broadcast.

The Amazons eventually join the Trojans in fighting the Greeks. The Amazons, fierce female warriors, were so dedicated to battle they all chopped off their left breasts in order to more accurately hold and fire a bow and arrow. All of the Amazons in the series have two boobs.

Agamemnon recruits his allies and their armies from different city-states across Greece. Every single one of them speaks with a British accent. So do the Trojans.

Casting

Paris, in the poem, is superficial and flighty. He’s visited by Zeus and three goddesses: Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, and is forced to choose a favorite. Aphrodite promises him the most beautiful woman in the world and after about 30 seconds Paris chooses her. Although the Greeks treated their gods as mightier than them, they still had mortal characteristics. Hera is a jealous harpy; Athena is wise and shrewd; Aphrodite is seductive. But in the miniseries, the whole thing is played off like Paris meeting four strangers in the woods and settling a minor dispute instead of a showdown with catastrophic consequences. There’s really nothing to differentiate them from humans, except they randomly show up places and only certain people can see them. As battle begins, Aphrodite and Athena bless soldiers on their respective sides, but it’s nothing special.

When we meet Menelaus and his wife, I was confused as to how Paris could seduce Helen so quickly. She’s smothered in jewels and she and her friends throw sex parties. Her husband is a mite condescending but he’s young and handsome and clearly adores her. There was little to no chemistry between the actors who played Paris and Helen. He gives quite a speech at his death, telling Menelaus that although he has Helen back, he’ll never have her love like Paris did, but that was too little, too late. I can’t overemphasize how important it was to cast these two roles correctly. Their relationship destroyed a family, their city and its citizens. (For a master class in sexual chemistry between two actors, see Rufus Sewell and Caterina Murino in the miniseries Zen.)

The Horse

I was so disappointed in the final episode, mainly because a lot of time in previous shows is devoted to showing how savvy and shrewd and manipulating Odysseus is. When Achilles refuses to fight because Agamemnon takes a slave he claimed for himself, Odysseus finds a way around it. After Achilles kills Hector (in retaliation for killing Achilles’ lover in battle) he grants Priam an audience and allows him 12 days of mourning. Odysseus has one of his men kill one of Achilles’ soldiers and made it look as though a Trojan did it, all but assuring Achilles’ return to war.

Paris kills Achilles, and immediately the Greeks’ chance of winning the war plummet. Paris convinces his brothers to attack their enemy’s encampment and comes across an empty beach with a horse.

  1. We know nothing of how Odysseus comes up with this idea.
  2. How does he convince Agamemnon to sign on and the others to stay hidden inside?
  3. How do they build it without the Trojans noticing it?
  4. HOW DO THEY DECIDE ON THIS DESIGN?

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Image source: Press Reader

I give the series 5 out of 10 stars (Benjen Stark is a good Odysseus) but 0 out of 10 stars for that horse.

 

 

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Netflix and BBC’s Troy Falls Into Mediocrity

Sorry for the Late Notice But Season Three of the Expanse Starts on SyFy Tonight

A random Twitter account I follow recommended The Expanse, a sci-fi noir thriller set 200 years in the future, when the first two seasons of the show became available on Amazon Prime.

It starts slow but within three epsiodes I was hooked. It has everything I like in a show in general: well-written, flawed, complex characters; an engaging plot. It also has phenomenal space battles, futuristic but completely feasible tech, a pretty dim but realistic vision of the military-industrial-government complex and the future in general, and EXTRA-SOLAR ALIENS, which may or may not be human hybrids. 

This article does a great job in explaining the plot and characters. It’s up there with Battlestar Galactica, which is my favorite sci-fi show of all time.

Sorry for the Late Notice But Season Three of the Expanse Starts on SyFy Tonight

I’m Having Shrimp Fried Rice for Easter Dinner in Solidarity of the Best Thing on Twitter Last Week

Happy Easter! We’re heathens, so we don’t celebrate or even get dressed up. I spent the day reading The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver and sending inappropriate Easter memes to my sister and a former coworker.

On Friday, like most of the Twitter-verse, I read with great interest a short thread of tweets concerning someone in the office throwing out a colleague’s lunch of shrimp fried rice.

Please, read the tweets referenced in the story if you can. As someone who’s had her (properly labeled, non-smelly, work-fridge-appropriate) lunch summarily thrown out on more than one occasion, I was particularly transfixed with the story. I don’t know what was better: the wronged employee was allowed to view surveillance footage; his eventual decision not to confront the thief; the narrator going out and buying shrimp fried rice for EVERYONE, including the thief, just so he could see her reaction (which was: I LOVE SHRIMP FRIED RICE!).

I had my husband, who works in an office but in a completely different environment, and he was mystified that I was so worked up about it. “I like that you like it,” he lamely offered me with a weak smile, and I immediately took him off my list of people to whom I send inappropriate Easter memes.

Work is unique in that you’re thrown together with random people not necessarily of your choosing, yet you have the same common goal. When I was working, I spent more time with coworkers than with my husband. At my first job, my coworkers doubled as my friends.

At the same time, work is dreary and monotonous and I don’t care if people say “if you do what you love it’s not work” or some other facile hokey claptrap. There’s hardly any vacation. Health insurance is expensive. If you don’t have good chemistry then work can get passive-aggressive really quickly.

So the shrimp fried rice story simultaneously amplifies and distracts from the minor indignities one ensures at work. That’s what makes it great.

I’m Having Shrimp Fried Rice for Easter Dinner in Solidarity of the Best Thing on Twitter Last Week

A Book A Day: The Stand by Stephen King

Image source: Goodreads

I re-read The Stand about every other year. It’s arguably my favorite book and I consider it a Great American Novel. I’d want it with me on the proverbial stranded desert island. I own the unabridged edition; the original was published in 1978 but King was forced to make a lot of edits. He restored them all 10 years later.

A super virus knocks out more than 99 percent of the population and the survivors are linked together by dreams. Some go to California in order to serve The Dark Man, and others are called to Colorado after they see a woman named Mother Abigail every night. Those in Colorado try to form a small society, with the end goal of confronting the Dark Man and making a final Stand against evil.

There are people in Colorado who end up deflecting to California; still others are recruited as spies to go there and find out more about The Dark Man, or Randall Flagg. The (mostly) men who make up the group who travel to California for the final stand are utterly human. There’s nothing remarkable about them besides their immunity to the super virus. The people in California are better organized and more talented. So in addition to being a story about good over evil, it’s also a tale about how a normal person can rise to be a great hero.

King’s primarily known for his work in horror but I’d argue The Stand isn’t horror at all, although there are parts that are gruesome. It’s post-apocalyptic fantasy more than anything else. I think the fact that it’s so hard to categorize makes it his best. 

Thanks for reading my book a day posts for March! Back to normal posting now.

A Book A Day: The Stand by Stephen King

A Book A Day: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Image source: Goodreads

Because of the cancerous cervical cells taken without consent from a black woman named Henrietta Lacks who was buried in an unmarked grave, we have the polio vaccine and countless other medical miracles. Scientists were able to replicate HeLa cells and cultures have been sold around the world. Not only did her family have no idea, these researchers started to investigate (again, without consent) cells from her husband and children.

This is a great book about medical ethics and our country’s embarrassing history of secret experimentation on black people, as well as issues surrounding ownership of our own genetic makeup.

A Book A Day: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

A Book A Day: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Image source: Goodreads

I read this book just when the Sandusky scandal broke at Penn State University, and I thought maybe if I revisited it later, the book (specifically, the second half of the book) wouldn’t be as terrible. Besides, this book is about baseball and the Penn State scandal was about football.

But perhaps a more fitting analogy of the book would be the Phillies’ performance during their first game of the 2018 season today. They were up by five runs, new skipper Gabe Kapler (please, Google Gabe Kapler and coconut oil and you will see what the offseason has been like for Phillies fans, the signings of Carlos Santana and Jake Arietta nonwithstanding) pulled the starter and the bullpen gave up eight unanswered runs. THAT’S what The Art of Fielding is like.

We meet Henry Skrimshander, a baseball phenom who attends small Westish College. We learn about his love for the game and the minutiae of baseball. He works hard and studies and generally is deserving of success. (This is where the book is at its best.) Everyone—his roommate, the team manager, the college president—revolves around Henry and his stardom. 

Until he flubs a routine throw to first base and all the wheels come off.

Henry’s puzzling descent into mediocrity and then awfulness is not my issue. Baseball players are notorious head cases. Some pitchers can’t field bunts, because their throw to first would be crazy. So instead of drilling the guy on bunts, the manager gives him a pass. When I was in high school I fielded a ground ball at third that barked my shin and it spooked me so much I never was able to cleanly field grounders, during practice or games. I eventually moved to first base.

But what bothered me is the whole school came apart and the second half of the novel deals with the minor characters (the bullpen) and its starter, Henry, feels abandoned. Henry’s self-assured roommate has an affair with the college president. (It’s consensual, but mind-boggling.) The college president’s daughter somehow becomes a major character. The only interesting storyline is the team manager, who’s cared more about Henry’s career than his own, and he’s starting to regret that.

(A good baseball memoir to read from an actual player is Doug Glanville’s The Game From Where I Stand.)

A Book A Day: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach