Thursday, 22 September 2011

Review - Skins, Season Five

Summary; The melodramatic Generation Two crowd are replaced with the diverse gang of misfits that make up Generation Three. Probably for the better.

There's Mini, the leader whose strong exterior and controlling nature hide a vulnerable young girl. Liv, Mini's second in command, a clumsy but beautiful party animal with a big heart. Grace, who seems as pure as the driven snow, but even her best friends don't really no her. And into this group of best mates crashes Franky: super-intelligent, strange and androgynous. The universe bends to her difference and weirdness, and so do these girls - eventually.

Then there are the boys. Rich - a cynical metalhead who will never compromise. His best mate Alo - a farmer-boy, pot-head, porn connoisseur. Nick, Mini's boyfriend, is captain of the rugby team. He's good-looking, popular, arrogant and unhappy. And Matty, who fits the bill of tall, dark and handsome outsider. But is Matty all that he seems or does he have a darker edge that no one would've expected?

Skins is notorious for its biannual cast changeovers. The theory is that each "Generation" of characters spans two seasons and covers their two years at Roundview sixth-form college, and are then replaced by a new group of teenagers beginning at Roundview (a school that should have been shut down seasons ago, seeing what's been going on there for the last five years.)

A nice theory, but it initially failed in practice, when the second cast became a poor self-parody of the original show intentions. It's common knowledge that Generation Two (Seasons 3 & 4) was a severe step down from Generation One (Seasons 1 & 2), and many were happy to see them go. So it was a shocker when Skins was renewed for another two series, with an entirely new cast.

Yet, this new cast somehow defies all expectations.

Generation Three may not share the glamor and looks of Generation Two, nor the humor of Generation One, but the writers seemed to have learned a lesson through the failings of Seasons 3 & 4 and have taken great care to avoid similar issues occurring in Season 5. What follows is a far more sensitive, nuanced, and emotional depiction of this year's gaggle of disaffected Bristol teens.

What that makes Generation Three superior on so many levels to Generation Two is that the writers and actors take genuine care in establishing the friendships of the individual characters, and the overall bond between the entire cast. Whereas the friendship of Effy, Pandora, Katie, Emily, Naomi, Cook, Freddie, JJ and Thomas as a whole was tenuous at best, and they only truly seemed to function as a unit by the Season 4 finale, this entire season revolves around the growing bonds between Franky, Mini, Liv, Grace, Rich, Alo, Nick and Matty. Early episodes revolve around two distinct groups of characters; the outcasts, consisting of Rich, Alo and Franky, and the popular gang, compiled of Mini, Liv, Nick and Grace. The two come together in a superb piece of character development from queen bee Mini McGuiness, where she admits her failings and asks if they can come together and give everyone a second chance.

This is another lesson learned from the failings of Two; the outcast and "uncool" teenagers are given just as sensitive and intelligent portrayal as the popular kids. Whereas JJ, Thomas and Pandora were often ousted in favor of "cool kids" like Effy, Freddie and Cook, Three pays careful attention to its designated misfits. Gawky metalhead Rich is by far the most developed of the male cast, and androgynous pansexual Franky Fitzgerald is the undisputed star of the show. Interestingly, the least developed lead is the popular boy Nick Levan.

Friendship is the greatest strength for Three. Whereas Two seemed only interested in pairing off characters in romantic relationships, platonic relationships are carefully established between individual characters. Mini McGuiness (played by a superb Freya Mavor) especially benefits

Whatever epic love triangles might be in place, the storyline of Season 5 was that of a burgeoning friendship between eight vastly different teenagers. In light of the strengths of One and the failings of Two, this was an excellent narrative decision, and brought Skins back to those roots that once made it terrific television.

Nick Levan is the staple alpha-male of the cast, but Sean Teale's initially unmemorable performance holds neither the physicality of Jack O'Connell's Cook (of Two), nor the manipulative and affable evil of Nicholas Hoult's Tony (of One). As such, he plays a relatively small role in later episodes, but it's in the finale that he comes into his own as a great source of comic relief. An interesting new dynamic of an odd friendship with Alo also comes into play, but Nick's best moment comes in the climax of the finale . Teale doesn't hold the versatility of some of his co-stars, and it would be a poor choice to give him a major role in the emotional core of Season 6, but if he's kept as a supporting comedic character, Nick will be just fine.

Something that Three is lacking is a compelling male lead. Rich (Alex Arnold) is the most developed male character, but with the Grace/Rich storyline resolved in the finale, even Rich is now somewhat directionless. (What is worrying is in continuing Grace and Rich's narratives, the writing team will fall back on the same hackneyed trick they used to further Emily/Naomi and the once magnificent Sid/Cassie, and create some convoluted development to break them up, then have them tragically declare their love and get back together.)

Standout performances of Season 5 came from Freya Mavor's Mini and Dakota Blue Richard's Franky. The Grace/Rich romance remained the common thread throughout the season, but the emotional core rested with the terrific Mini McGuinness and Franky Fitzgerald. The writers seem to have acknowledged this, if Mini's late-season lesbian crush on Franky is anything to go by. Truthfully, this development did occur rather suddenly from nowhere, but still, it has the potential to be such a stunning pairing that I'm willing to let this slide, and if the writers have any common sense, they'll construct Season 6 around this storyline.

3.5/5. Season Five cannot claim the same brilliance as early Skins, but it's a touching depiction of adolescence and is one of the better teen dramas currently on television.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

30 Days Of Harry Potter: Day One - Favorite Book

Easy choice, people.

Honorable mentions go to Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire (the most solidly plotted of the series), Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince (which misses out on a top spot because Rowling should never join the Skins writing team) and Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix (which is conceptually great, but sometimes fell flat in execution.)

Sunday, 17 July 2011

"Song To Say Goodbye" Fanfiction - Seamus/Lavender

Felt the need to write something tonight, so I churned out an angsty little romance one-shot on Lavender & Seamus; Song To Say Goodbye. Set during Deathly Hallows, under Snape and the Carrows' reign at Hogwarts. A nice destructive little romance for you.

As you can see, I also made a spectacularly bad image for it. (The characters are Effy and Cook, from Skins UK, if you were wondering.) Seriously, if I ever start making banners for stories and fanfiction, I'll probably need to beg some readers to do it for me.

The title "Song To Say Goodbye" and lyrics quoted in the story are from the excellent Placebo song, "Song To Say Goodbye." Original on my part, huh?

It's probably not all that good, since I basically just opened my iPad and started free-writing (I just bought an iPad 2! How awesome is that?), but if you could tell me what you thought of it in a review or in the comments, I'd be very grateful.

Also, if anyone's interested, I've decided to do both fanfiction projects that I was discussing a while ago; Lily Luna Potter Series and Marauders Series. Should take a while, but I'd like to have a go at both.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

New Fanfiction Project... Umm

I am so stupid. I shouldn't even be thinking of doing this. I've got several fanfiction projects on the go, some already posted and some that aren't even written yet, and plenty that are probably going to become discontinued or what not.

Last thing I should be doing is conceiving of yet another project. Especially one that will very likely end up being seven volumes long...

Yesterday, I was reading some fanfiction writer's profile, and they were talking about a potential but abandoned idea for writing a Lily Luna Potter series, citing the fact that she got little love from the NextGen writers. (Which is true. There's a bunch of stories along the lines of "Albus Potter And The Mysterious MacGuffin", "James Potter And The New Lord Voldemort" and "Teddy Lupin And The Goblin Uprising" posted and completed. There's none like that for Lily Luna.)

Naturally, the Really Good Ideas portion of my brain starts going into overdrive...

Point is, I now have an outline for a Lily Luna Series in my mind, complete with a villain, a couple of OC friends, political unrest and some world-building. I've even written the first chapter. (Bearing in mind that I only thought of this yesterday and I usually win an Olympic Gold in procrastination).

Basically, trouble is that I've got a good plan for a series I would have fun writing, but in order to do so, I would have to put aside projects in my timetable to make room for it.

I want to get MRMI completed sometime soon. Too many people have reviewed and said they liked it for me just to keep them hanging. Plus, it was my first story up here - I need to finish it. However, I don't think four more chapters will be difficult in the grand scheme of things.

The real problem is my Marauders Series (currently titled Definitive Guide To Sex, Drugs And Rock And Roll or whatever). I posted basic details of this on my profile a while ago and I desperately want to get it written. It's intended to be a fairly complex exploration of Voldemort's rise to power and the involvement of James, Lily & Co. I want to be quite original, and I'm attempting to deconstruct a bunch of cliches in the Lily/James fandom. (This could also go completely wrong and end up falling flat.)

I have a detailed outline for this series, and it's the closest to my heart. It's also proving difficult to write - I'm still on the first volume and that alone has gone through several re-writes. (The first chapter of what was going to be my initial MWPP-Era story is currently posted and was scrapped a while ago. I'm not taking this down until I have something to replace it with.)

So. Dilemma; Do I write;

A) Lily Potter Series; Long series I would find easier to write and have fun creating,  OR
B) Marauder Seres; Long series I would find harder to write but prefer to have written.


Saturday, 2 July 2011

What Went Right; Why Ron/Hermione Work As A Romance And Harry/Ginny Do Not

Harry/Ginny is one of the most divisive pairings in a fandom already heavily populated with shipping warfare. Their shippers, JKR herself amongst them, argue that Ginny and Harry are true soulmates and that  "they're both very strong and very passionate. That's their connection, and they're remarkable together." (JK Rowling). Whereas, their detractors, including myself, suggest that their romance was rushed and unrealistic, that they have little serious interaction and that Harry's attraction towards her lacked foreshadowing. 

Romance writing isn't necessarily JKR's forte. I love her, and she's a wonderful fantasy-adventure writer, but lacks the skills of a romance writer. However, she gets the balances of falling in love just right in her best written pairing; Ron/Hermione. (I actually always felt that Ron/Hermione were the main romance of the books, rather than Harry/Ginny, due to theirs being built up from Book One.)

To have a look at why Harry/Ginny fail where Ron/Hermione succeed, let's take a look at respective points about their romances;

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Reccing For Know It Alls

I've just started recommending on Know It Alls - a Harry Potter fanfiction recommendations site. Yay! It's a site heavily focused on the Severus/Hermione pairing, and I'll most likely be recommending James/Lily and Ron/Hermione stories; namely because A) they're my favorites, and B) I know next to nothing about Severus/Hermione.

(I am probably way too proud of this. But I'm still really happy.)

For the few of you that are nice enough to be reading my blog, I've just posted my first recommendation on the site; for Scandalacious Intentions' Where Dwell The Brave At Heart Marauders and James/Lily story.

Once again, yay!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Review - Clockwork Angel, by Cassandra Clare

Summary; So-so urban fantasy, where teenage Tessa Gray arrives in Victorian London, discovers she is a shapeshifter, takes shelter with and falls for the Shadowhunters, all the while searching for her brother and trying to discover the identity of the Magister.

Magic is dangerous - but love is more dangerous still... When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray arrives in London during the reign of Queen Victoria, something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Friendless and hunted, Tessa seeks refuge with the Shadowhunters, a band of warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons. Drawn ever deeper into their world, she finds herself fascinated by - and torn between - two best friends, and quickly realizes that love may be the most dangerous magic of all. 

Whoop whoop. Hip-hip-hooray. Cassie Clare's done it again - churned out another mediocre YA fantasy, complete with recycled plots, poor description, a piss-poor attempt at steampunk, melodrama villains and characters plagiarized from her very own work. Welcome to the world of The Infernal Devices Trilogy, yet another attempt by Clare to pad out her original Mortal Instruments Trilogy. Gotta hand it to the woman, she sure knows how to keep a cash cow flowing.

If you happen to be a Londoner or historian, be prepared to punch everything in plain sight when you read Clare's depiction of Victorian London. Queen Vicky's London was a flawed and fascinating one - a far more intriguing setting for a novel than Clare's watered down version - brimming with hypocrisy, classism and misogyny. It was the wealthiest place in the world, yet had a massive crime rate and thousands of occupants were living in poverty. Sex was an unspeakable taboo, meaning rapists were rarely brought to justice. Society was incredibly racist, homophobic and oppressive. Yet to read Clare's London, a reader would be forgiven for believing that all anyone did was quote great literature, talk like a pretentious arsehole, be shocked and faint at pretty much anything, prance around in fancy dresses, or play-act at being a swashbuckling hero. In short, it's a caricatured and Disneyfied version of British history, one that reads like the extent of Clare's research was a series of cut-and-pasted Wikipedia articles. (AKA, Cassie Clare, quoting a few lines of Great Expectations does not a steampunk make!)

As well as barely attempting the basic definition of steampunk - reflecting a social commentary on said historical society - Clare seems happy to stick with poor caricatures of common Victorian cliches, made worse by the fact they're historical expies of the original Mortal Instruments cast; Tessa/Clary, Will/Jace, Jem/Simon/Alec and Jessamine/Isabelle. It's a genuine shame, as a couple of characters show honest potential as interesting heroes. Jem is mildly intriguing, but it's Tessa's foil Jessamine who seems like a potentially complex and compelling person, but again, she too falls victim to Clare's lazy development, and as a result, becomes a depressingly familiar stock character.

Clare's weak characterizations are made worse by her unrealistic romances. Like her early pairings of Draco/Hermione and Draco/Ginny from The Draco Trilogy, and Jace/Clary from The Mortal Instruments, Clare attempts another smart-ass-bad-boy-is-redeemed-by-cute-girl romance, this time in the form of Tessa/Will. It still hasn't worked. Will is an unappreciative wanker, Tessa lets him walk all over her, and somehow, this is supposed to create burgeoning romantic chemistry. (Once again, Clare's supporting cast unintentionally end up as more sympathetic than her designated heroes). Despite the occasional good one-liner, Tess and Will have zilch compatibility with one another, and if I hadn't been overly familiar with Clare's romance formula, I would have been surprised when I found myself reading their first kiss.

Unfortunately, the deriving from her earlier works doesn't stop with the romances and characters. The plots are glaringly similar, as well as kick-starting the plot with both heroines searching for a missing family member (Clary - her mother, Tessa - her brother), they discover their families are entwined in the supernatural world, end up learning that they are way too special to be boring old humans and instead become super-speshul powerful magical beings.

It's not only derivative of her own writings, it's derivative of the stock formula of the average teenage urban-fantasy novel of today. For a woman publishing her fourth novel, it is appalling storytelling and a depressing sign that Clare's writing has not yet matured since her infamous days of The Draco Trilogy.

However, there is the occasional saving grace that makes ploughing through the novel possible. One of the more enjoyable components of the Mortal Instruments was the mythology of the Shadowhunters, the Nephilim and the Downworlders. The adoptive family of the Institute too is occasionally touching. (However, I can't buy the idea of 23-year-old Charlotte being the governor of the Institute).

Still, a mildly interesting mythology, appearance of Magnus Bane, and occasional good one-liner can't save a derivative and poorly written novel. Clockwork Angel is a rip-off of a rip-off, and for this reason, I am not planning to set aside anytime for Clock Prince and Clockwork Princess.

2/5. It's got a couple of entertaining moments, but honestly not worth it unless your a hardcore Cassie Clare fan.