Read It, July 2015, and More about Lexx

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Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

Well, this is my worst showing yet. In July I finished only a single book for my own enjoyment. The book was David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green.

This is a lovely novel. It captures the author’s life (roughly) at age 13, with all his insecurities, both internal and external, and the very honest brutality of his classmates, in a way that is moving, precisely because it is lacking in mawkish sentimentality. The characters are archetypes, to some extent, and sometimes fill specific roles in this bildungsroman, but they are quite convincing. It all fits together in a neat artistic bow at the end, but I think that’s OK. The narrator grows as a person, over the course of a year, and winds up impressing the reader.

The narrator has a stammer, which hit home for me because several of my children have speech impediments, to some degree, and we have not been able to get them any assistance (that’s another long story). The cruelty of the various adults and children in his life regarding the stammer is not surprising. It reinforces my belief that my own children are better off home-schooled — although homeschooling can have its own pitfalls, such as the toll it takes on the sanity of the parents.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time mourning my poor showing this month, or trying to justify it. But the biggest reason is simply that I’ve continued to put in long hours at a new job, sometimes fifteen or sixteen hours a day. Many days this past month when I left work, I had every intention of eating a quick meal and reading for a bit before I went to sleep, but many evenings my eyes and my brain were just too fried, so I’d often start to read a page or two, realize I was not getting anywhere, and just go to sleep. I had somewhat better luck reading a chapter first thing in the morning, and that’s how I finished Black Swan Green, but it was slow progress.

On those evenings where I’ve been two fried to read properly, but too wired to go to bed, I’ve been watching some videos. I finished season one of Mad Men, and started season two. The show is very impressive, but you know that already.


I’ve also been working my way through the rest of Lexx. I’m not entirely sure why. Masochism, maybe? Lexx is very frustrating. Some of the bigger-picture setup is just beautiful, and deserved much better storytelling. It has brilliant moments and occasionally really stunning sets and visuals, despite the relatively low budget. Episodes such as “Brigadoom” really redeem the show for me and make me smile. But for the most part, the individual shows are painful to watch. They are hour-long episodes, but contain barely enough script for a half-hour show, so everything is terribly padded. I sometimes find myself just skipping ahead a minute or two at a time with the fast-forward button to get through interminable, redundant scenes. The episode entitled “Girltown” is a good example of the show’s endless, painful sexism, and how it keeps sinking back into the insulting portrayals it is (apparently) trying, but failing, to satirize.

Where the show manages to do some specific satire, parody, or homage, it can be quite entertaining. But it really feels like the creators just couldn’t, for the most part, come up with any ideas to drive the plot of the individual episodes other than the endlessly tedious rehash of “Stan and Xev want to get laid, but Xev doesn’t want Stan; Xev likes Kai, but Kai is dead; 790 loves Xev, but 790 is just a robot head.” They just play out this same set of flat, adolescent motives over and over again, in slightly different settings. That’s about 3/4 of Lexx. But there’s about 1/4 of it that is funny, or surreal, or thought-provoking, or actually erotic.

So why do I keep watching? I am watching for those occasional flashes of interest, because when they do show up, they seem to almost make the slog worthwhile. I am a big fan of writing or video that takes artistic risks. Most of the things that are superficially “risky” about Lexx — the nudity, the horny characters, the body horror, etc. — are not really risky at all. They’re your basic pandering to the lowest common denominator “Cormanesque” science fiction/horror tropes. But the show does some things occasionally that actually risk artistic failure. In “Brigadoom” we suddenly have one of the major character’s back-story explicated as an honest-to-god musical, with Kai singing his life story and Xev joining him on a stage, and it’s amazing. Not just amazingly weird, although it is that, but beautiful.

That’s a project I’d like to work on with someone — to watch Lexx in depth. I believe there are things to be learned from artistic failures. A podcast format might be suitable here — perhaps one show per episode? But that’s probably too much; it might work better to condense some episodes into one podcast, while others get more detailed treatment. For example, the two-parter “The Web” and “The Net” should get a single podcast; they comprise one of the more interesting shows. Would anyone like to collaborate on this? It’s easy to just criticize a work like this; there is a lot to criticize. But I think Lexx is weird enough and, occasionally, risky enough to be worth talking about.

UPDATE: I’ve discovered this podcast, but not listened to it yet, and it doesn’t look like it got very far into the show. There’s also this one, which looks like it covers more episodes. I’ll have to give these a listen; it’s possible they already did what I would like to do. But we’ll see.

Saginaw and/or Ann Arbor, Michigan
August 2, 2015

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