Wednesday, December 07, 2016

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BABYLON 5 REVISITED WITH J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI + MIRA FURLAN (MF GALAXY 100)


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SF can attempt to predict the future, but since Jonathan Swift invented SF with Gulliver’s Travels, an adult political satire that I’d call the original Star Trek, SF has delivered its most enduring and provocative works by analysing the ethical content of the present. But Star Trek became so dominant on US TV through reruns and then resurrection as Star Trek: The Next Generation that it became a force stifling creativity.

The boldest, most innovative, and most influential counter to Star Trek dominance was Babylon 5,  the 1993 to 1998 series that introduced the longform story arc with a  predetermined beginning, middle, and end to US television. Set in the  twenty-third century, the story was of the fifth and final Babylon  station, a galactic UN created to end the cataclysmic wars and  colonisations in which the cerebral and spiritual Minbari had nearly  annihilated Humans, the humanoid Centauri whose empire was in advanced  decline, and the reptilian and vengeful Narn who had thrown off Centauri  subjugation.

Also involved  were two mysterious races: the Vorlons, so alien they could barely be  understood, and a shadowy race whose existence was unknown to most  species, even while their power soon would be. Mixed into the five-year  story arc were queer characters, old and new human religions, a Jewish  funeral, a species change, political assassinations, allegories for  racism, and the rise of fascism on Earth.
Babylon 5 offered stakes that Star Trek  never had, and better yet, played them out for five seasons to results  that television had never attempted. It was a long-overdue revival of  science fiction TV.

From 1987 to 1994, Star Trek: The Next Generation  had presented a 24th Century humanity that, by means unexplained, had  stripped itself of its most enduringly toxic social and individual  problems. In the Next Generation world, humans didn’t wage war  against other humans, did not practice labour, racial, or sexual  oppression or exploitation, or destroy ecosystems. The Next Generation  presented a future in which “we”—the assumed Euro-American audience for  whom the show was created—could do no wrong as a society; only aberrant individuals could cause suffering.

So the major sources of misery, degradation, and tyranny were alien societies. Given that Star Trek’s  major social allegory was that the Federation, or at least humanity,  was the United States, and that the Klingon Empire was the Soviet Union,  the view that it’s always the aliens’ fault is an inherently  xenophobic, jingoistic, and racist vision of the real world.

But Babylon 5 didn’t accept such simplistic and ugly ideas, and the space epic shows that followed B5’s lead, especially Farscape and Battlestar Galactica,  seem to have taken its lessons, including by having more female main  characters who actually drove the plot and had significant backstories  that also drove the story’s direction.

In the episode “By Any Means Necessary,” Babylon 5 presented labour struggle on its station a decade before Battlestar Galactica dramatised the issue; similarly, B5 presented its military personnel wearing civilian clothes when they were off-shift, which virtually never happened in Trek, but later happened in Battlestar Galactica.

B5  presented not just a multiracial but a multireligious future for humans  and aliens. Commander Sinclair studied under Jesuits; Lt. Commander  Susan Ivanova was not religious but culturally was Jewish-Russian, and  after her father’s death, sat Shiva with her family rabbi in the episode  “TKO.”

In today’s episode of MF GALAXY, you’ll hear my conversations with two key figures behind B5:  Joseph Michael Straczynski, and Mira Furlan. Joe Straczynski, or just  plain JMS was a successful television writer on shows such as Murder, She Wrote before he launched B5.  Before the days when creative producer/head writers were called show  runners, JMS single-handedly wrote 92 of the series’ 110 episodes, and  drafted the overarching plot for the entire five-year epic before the  first frame was shot. He later co-created Sense8 with the Wachowskis, and wrote the screen stories for World War Z and Thor among other works.

Mira  Furlan is the celebrated Yugoslavian stage and screen actor who played  the Minbari Ambassador Delenn, after Furlan left her war-torn homeland.  She’s best known in North America for playing Rousseau in Lost, and she’s also appeared on NCIS and Law & Order: LA.

Twenty-two  years ago in 1994, JMS spoke with me by telephone from his production  office in Los Angeles, just before season 2 began airing, and we  recorded the call at CJSR FM88 in Edmonton. Mira Furlan spoke with me at  the Earth Station Convention in 1997 in south Edmonton just before she  left for the airport.

You’ll  notice throughout today’s discussion, that JMS and I both say  variations on the phrase “in other SF shows” when the SHOW THAT MUST NOT  BE NAMED was definitely Star Trek. That deliberate phrasing was just as common in the Making of Babylon 5 half-hour special that aired when B5 launched, so as to avoid stoking the Trek-Always-and-Only kneejerk reaction of some fans.

While  today it might seem laughable, twenty years ago SF screen fandom was  infected with tribalism. Many fans couldn’t wrap their brains around the  idea that you could publicly state that you liked two different story  worlds at the same time. Maybe that began with Stan Lee hyping Marvel  versus DC, as if liking DC was akin to pledging allegiance to a national  enemy, or at least a group of stodgy idiots. But even now, of course,  some of that lunacy remains. In fact, as Gamergate and the Hugo Wars  demonstrated, it actually got worse. Some might say it metastasised into  the US presidential election.

We began with JMS about why he wanted Babylon 5 to fall where it did on the predictive versus allegorical scale of science fiction.

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To  hear more than an hour of bonus content for this episode, including  more discussion with JMS and Mira Furlan, and my feature-length  conversation with Bob the Angry Flower cartoonist Stephen Notley—because  he and I were both big fans of B5 when it came out--click on the Patreon link to become a sponsor for a dollar or more per week.

And  hey, with Christmas coming, how about sharing some of that holiday  generosity by becoming a sponsor of MF GALAXY? Just click here to become a sponsor for 99 cents or even  25 cents per show. You’ll be supporting my weekly work to bring you  outstanding interviews with amazing authors, academics, activists,  actors, avengers, artists, and Africentrists! And for a buck a show,  you’ll get access to scores of extended editions of the show with tons  of great advice for new and mid-career writers seeking to up their game.  This holiday season, help a brother out!

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The Making Of Babylon 5

JMS on why Michael O’Hare left Babylon 5

Michael O’Hare convention appearance

How I drank more to overcome alcoholism | Claudia Christian | TEDxLondonBusinessSchool

Video tribute
Michael O'Hare (Station Commander Jeffrey Sinclair), Jerry Doyle (Security Chief Michael Garibaldi), Richard Biggs (Dr. Stephen Franklin), Andreas Katsulas (G’kar), Jeff Conaway (Security officer Zach), Johnny Sekka (Dr. Benjamin Kyle), Tim Choate (Zathrus), Paul Williams (General Franklin), and Robin Sachs (ensemble member)

 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

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DAVID CLIMENHAGA ON TURMOIL IN ALBERTA POLITICS, FLOOR-CROSSING, KENNEY'S "TRUMP STYLE" (MF GALAXY 099)


  • EX-PC LEADERSHIP CONTENDER’S FLOOR-CROSSING TO THE NDP GOVERNMENT
  • “SLEAZY” CAMPAIGN TACTICS BY THE JASON KENNEY CAMPAIGN TAKE OVER THE PC PARTY
  • FRIGHTENING MISOGYNY IN THE CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT  
  • DESPERATE FUTURE OF WILDROSE LEADER BRIAN JEAN
  • NDP MISFIRES ON THE ROAD TO RE-ELECTION
  • THE COLD REALITY OF PETRO-CAPITALISM
  • HOW CORPORATE JOURNALISTS BENT OVER TO MAKE “OIL SANDS” POLITICALLY CORRECT

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If you’re not from Alberta, you  may not know that the province has been, functionally, a one-party state  for decades at a time. Thirty-six straight years of Social Credit rule  collapsed to forty-four straight years of Progressive Conservative  control.

2015 saw the  unexpected election of the New Democratic Party under the leadership of  Rachel Notley, leap-frogging over the right-wing splinter party Wild  Rose led by former Conservative MP Brian Jean, and crushing the PC party  led by former Conservative MP, the late Premier Jim Prentice.
But  no one expects the NDP to continue the tradition of four decades of  rule, whatever its ambitions. And if party turn-over remains a reality,  then Alberta will at last have become a modern Western democracy.

It’s  been a rough ride for the NDP, despite the enormous popularity of  Premier Notley, herself the daughter of the former provincial NDP leader  Grant Notley. After the election honeymoon was over, the reality of low  oil prices, a high deficit, and the handling of Bill 6 have threatened the party’s chances of re-election.

Bill  6 sought to protect farm workers by granting them Workers Compensation  Bureau coverage and thus freeing farmers from liability, but the Bill 6  consultation and communications plan met widespread criticism  spearheaded by the Wild Rose opposition. The defeat of the federal NDP,  the former official opposition at one point seen as the next government,  further dampened hopes for the provincial party.

But  it’s not only the NDP facing a difficult future. The Alberta Liberal  Party was reduced to a single seat and the defeat of its former leader Raj Sherman, himself a former PC. The former PC leader Jim Prentice  immediately resigned and then died in a plane crash in 2016. Wild Rose leader Brian Jean’s attempts to discipline his own MLA Derek Fildebrandt  seemed to have backfired and weakened his own position.

Worse  still for Brian Jean is the former Conservative MP and Stephen Harper  lieutenant Jason Kenney leaving federal politics to seek the leadership  of the ailing provincial PCs to collapse it into the Wild Rose, topple Jean, and become the leader.

The  only two women in the PC leadership race, Donna Kennedy-Glans and  Sandra Jansen, both quit after being targets of what Jansen called  “Trump-style politics” from Kenney supporters, whose harassment included  calling Jansen a “baby-killer.” Jansen said: 

“My  social media has been filled with filth, my domain name purchased to  direct people to smear pieces on me and … the final straw… Insults were  scrawled on my nomination forms. Volunteers from another campaign chased  me up and down the hall, attacking me for protecting women's  reproductive rights, and my team was jeered for supporting children’s  rights to a safe school environment.”

The result of such intimidation? Jansen crossed the floor to join the NDP.

Joining me to analyse all the above is David Climenhaga.
From  his official bio: “David J. Climenhaga is an award-winning journalist,  author, post-secondary teacher, poet, and trade union communicator who  has worked in senior writing and editing positions at the Toronto Globe and Mail and Calgary Herald. He holds a Masters Degree in Journalism from the Carleton University School of Journalism in Ottawa. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye,  explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations  people and politicians.” Climenhaga blogs at AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Climenhaga  is also a 4th-degree black belt in Uechi-Ryu, a traditional style of  karate from Okinawa, and during the course of our conversation he and I  both make reference to the Eastern martial arts.

We  spoke last week on November 25 at Climenhaga’s office in downtown  Edmonton to discuss the present for Sandra Jansen, the legality and  morality of floor-crossings, what Climenhaga calls “sleazy” tactics of  the Kenney campaign, and how in his opinion the NDP is failing to put  its star player on the field in the Grey Cup of provincial politics, possibly at the cost of its own future.

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albertapolitics.ca
Contact: albertadiary@gmail.com

Etymology of Tory: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=Tory

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ANTHONY Q. FARRELL ON WRITING FOR NBC’S THE OFFICE, PITCHING JOKES TO STEVE CARELL, AND WHAT IT TAKES TO SUCCEED AS A TV COMEDY WRITER (MF GALAXY 097)




Anthony Q. Farrell is an amazing cat. He’s from Toronto, went to actual comedy school, and ended up writing for one of the most influential US comedy series ever, The Office on NBC, which is also one of my favourite shows.

He wrote two of its most enduring  episodes: “Casual Friday,” in which Dunder Miflin former district manager Michael Scott returns to his old job with also former-ex-employees Pam Beesley and Ryan Howard, and the emotional “Employee Transfer,” in which Michael Scott breaks up with Holly Flax, the love of his life, during a road trip to her new home.

Farrell also served as the Canadian culture consultant on “Business Trip,” in which Michael Scott, Andy Bernard, and Oscar Martinez go to Winnipeg.
In addition to having written for two years on The Office including the Office short films “Taste the Ice Cream” and “Money Trouble,” Farrell wrote for The Thundermans, Originals, In Gayle We Trust, and was the series creator of Dwelling and The Secret Life of Boys. He also wrote and was executive story editor for the CBC sitcom hit Little Mosque on the Prairie.

Did I mention that Farrell is an African-Canadian? And given that there aren’t many African-Canadian writers who’ve hit it big in Hollywood, as soon as I knew Farrell existed, I was determined to hear what he had to say.

In today’s episode, Farrell speaks with me about his career in comedy television, including:

  • The impact that Office showrunner and executive producer Greg Daniels had on him as a writer and later as a showrunner
  • The artistic and collegial environment for writers and actors on the show and what made it so effective
  • What is was like working with series stars such as Rainn Wilson who played Dwight Shrute and Mindy Kaling who played Kelly Kapoor, and what it was like to pitch a joke to Steve Carell
  • What it feels like to write fat jokes about actors you’ll be seeing every day at work, and why some actors stop getting comedic moments in their scripts
  • And which Office actors were most like their characters.

Farrell spoke with me by Skype on June 10, 2016.

We begin with Farrell discussing how attending comedy school gave him the training and the contacts he needed to build an outstanding career.

Anthony Q. Farrell on IMDB

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The following material is exclusive to the patrons-only extended edition of MF GALAXY. You’ll hear  Anthony Q. Farrell  discuss:


  • How he wrote the emotional episode “Employee Transfer” about Michael Scott losing Holly Flax
  • How writers need to work with others to thrive professionally and emotionally
  • To what extent Hollywood still ghettoises Latina and Latino, and African-American and African-Canadian writers.