Monday, January 05, 2004


Friends and family were all more than generous at Christmas this year and I received a great deal of reading and veiwing material. Following are my brief reviews and recommendations on some of the items.

The West Wing: The Complete First Season, DVD:
I knew that The West Wing of the past few seasons was no match for the show in its first and second season. In part, this decline is inevitable because no show can maintain its quality over several years. I was interested to see, however, how much this percieved decline was a result of actual lack of production quality versus veiwer familiarity with the show. Would I be as impressed with the first season now as I was when it first aired? The answer: Yes.

The first season of this show really is superb. The long but brisk walking/talking shots are much more carefully constructed and well executed. The dialoge, in its writing and performance, is sharper. Personal stories and political issues are interwoven better and achieve better ballance. Most importantly the show is about the West Wing and not the president as it has become over the last few seasons (my theory on why this occurred in a future post).

The best example of how all of these elements come together is the episode In Excelsis Deo. The Christmas episodes of most shows, including the West Wing of seasons 3-5 rarely achieve anything more than sappy melodrama. This episode, however, trancends most of the standard cliches and attains real emotional poignancy.
I can't wait for season two but I wouldn't pay for anything beyond that.

The Walrus Magazine:
This general interest, politically oriented magazine debuted in November. How can such a magazine possibly be successful? I don't know if it can be but its going all out. I bought the first issue off the newstand and got a subscription for Christmas. Their self-proclaimed attempt to be the Harper's and New Yorker equivalent for Canada may be nothing more than delusions of grandeur but so far they are putting out a solid magazine. They focus on international issues through a Canadian perspective but that perspective is not overplayed to the point of parochialism. For example the headline story in the second issue deals with Western foriegn aid to Russia and how it is affecting nuclear disarmament there. The Canadian aspect of this story is covered (and there is one) but the fact that the U.S is the major player,as always, in this issue remains apparent. In stories where there is not much of a Canadian angle (as in the story on Tony Blair's involvement in the Iraq war) one is not invented or contrived. Its good writing by some big to medium sized personalities. Their website is here. They are still trying to decide how to deal with online content. Currently they are posting their shorter secondary stories in full but not their feature articles.

ALIAS The complete seasons 1 and 2, DVD:
This was actually my sister's gift but she got me hooked on it (and yes I watched a lot of television over the holidays). This is a fun show to watch and is quite habit forming. The show follows Jennifer Garner as CIA agent Sydney Bristow getting herself into and out of impossible situations. The show falls victim however to 'X-Files' syndrome. That is, it's only really fun to watch when the plot of the bad guys is completely shrowded in mystery. Unfortunately such mystery cannot be maintained forever, when part of the mystery is revealed it can't live up to the viewer's imagined expectations and the attempts to create new mystery become increasingly ridiculous.

The Truth About Stories by Thomas King:
This is the print version of this year's Massey Lecture series, which I mentioned briefly in a post below. King is one of the most intelligent, thoughtful and engaging writers/story tellers in Canada today and this book reflects that. King is the first person of Aboriginal ancestry to give the Massey Lecutres and he beautifully weaves Native stories, and personal stories into his work. His stories do not serve as mere examples to supplement his ideas and arguments they are his ideas and arguments, for as he says, "the truth about stories is that's all we are."

All of the above are highly recommended as fun and thoughtful ways to pass some time.

Posted by Matthew @ 12:51 a.m.