I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve been doing lately.
I’ve been watching HBO drama Oz. While it’s over a decade old now, really good scripting doesn’t age, and Oz is a testament to brilliant writing.
If I could describe this show in a word, it would be “relentless”. Relentlessly good. Relentlessly violent and confronting. Relentlessly bleak and tragic and uplifting and astonishing. It was the first of the HBO dramas that broke the traditional television mold – paving the way for shows like Game of Thrones – and I think it remains the best.
If there’s any setting which truly allows for a deep exploration of themes like love, hate, redemption, forgiveness and punishment, it’s prison – here we see life at its most raw, stripped of all civility. There were times throughout the 6-season show that I wondered if the portrayal of sex, gangs and violence was over-fictionalised – and then I watched a Louis Theroux documentary about life in a maximum security prison. I was disturbed to see that there was actually not very much creative license taken at all in Oz.
Probably the most astounding aspect of the show is its brilliant characterization. In Oz there are no grabs for audience sympathy – these prisoners are guilty, some of heinous crimes. They are violent and murderous and manipulative – we are fully aware of who these men really are; and yet, we are dared to see the humanity as well as the crime. It’s disturbing and unsettling as we are forced past our mental attempts to categorize and stereotype.
I read an article where Dean Winters, who plays scheming manipulator Ryan O’Reilly (incidentally my favourite character) said that once an actor begins to play a character to win audience sympathy, they fail to be true to that character. None of the characters in Oz are played sympathetically – they are brutal and violent and at times sociopathic. And yet we are drawn into their lives and care about what happens to them.
Oz isn’t easy to stomach – but if you can, its well worth it.
I’ve also been reading Gone Girl.
I seem to have this habit of buying popular books in the bookstore just before they become popular. I did it with Twilight, then Hunger Games, and now Gone Girl, which I purchased being blissfully unaware it was about to become a bestseller and a Ben Affleck movie. I’m actually glad, because it gave me a chance to read the book without any preconceived ideas. And I really enjoyed Gone Girl. The writing is so taught– incredibly descriptive and yet not an unnecessary word throughout the whole novel. The plot thrummed along at a cracking pace and I found myself wanting to skip ahead several times to “see what happens” because I couldn’t stand the tension. I also found myself reflecting in quiet moments on the novel’s central theme – the idea of whether you can truly every really know anyone. I highly recommend you read the book before the movie comes out.
And, finally, I have been playing a lot of chess. Bookworm is obsessed with this game at the moment, and I’m sad to say I’m not able to beat him anymore. He recently went to a chess tournament and won the bronze medal. And now he says things like “I’ve got you in a pin and a fork” and I have no idea what that means, only that I am about to lose. I really have to brush up on my skills, otherwise he’s going to get cocky 🙂
I’d love to hear what others have been reading and watching – any good books or shows or games to share?