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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Past Life

Of all the crap…

I mean, I live in California. In Santa Cruz. I like sci-fi and fantasy. I have seen plenty of far fetched lame plot devices and things that make you go “what the…?”

But this? This is just crap.

The promo is set to the sound of a defibrillator machine for ambiance… the words are sort of floaty…

“Have you ever had Déjà vu? And thought it was something more? Maybe it was.”

Voice over: She solves crimes that put souls to rest!

Yep. Welcome to Past Life,

...the new crime procedural with the shtick of the crime solvers being Psycho…. Therapists and a washed up has been “cowboy” detective who use Regression Therapy to solve murders. Apparently, as the “doctor” tells us, Reincarnation is real. We all carry around the memories of our past lives and sometimes, due to trauma or plot convention we regress and experience these memories. At that point it becomes up to her to use triggers and forceful staring to get you continue to flash back so that they can investigate the ‘clues” and thus solve the mystery.

That is premise of the show.

I kid you not.

They canceled Firefly, Pushing Daisies, Dollhouse, and Defying Gravity…. And we get this. (Not a shock, the show is on FOX… I am still not sure how a skeptical medical show like House managed to make it on this network that is so obviously catering to the vaccines cause autism and homeopathy is so super reals!)

Here’s the thing. Shows like Fringe and Warehouse 13 are silly. They know they are silly. They deal with things that are obviously silly like enchanted combs and telepathy. They are harmless.

But crap like this? Crap like this feed on the general public’s appetite for reasons to distrust science in the name of pseudoscience. Regression therapy to deal with your tortured reincarnated soul? Give me a break.

The pilot introduces us to Dr. McGinn (doctor of what we aren’t ever told), her horrible fake accent, and her sidekick the skeptical (but for how long?) former detective Whatley. There is also a 14 year old boy who is the reincarnation of a murder victim. We get just enough exposition to make us queasy and then we get the story which is almost unwatchable.

I thought about recapping the episode but honestly by the opening credits I was feeling overwhelmed with nausea so instead here are a few of the best and worst moments of the show.

Read Watch if you can stomach it, and Judge for yourself.

Lines like “The clues are there, you just have to know where to look.” Reek of both poor writing and confirmation bias.

Classic bad moment: Oh no, the kid has gone missing. Let’s go to his room. Hey look his friend is IMing him right now! What a great coincidence… the friend says ‘What up where r u? Zachary park?” because that makes sense. If you IM someone (a message sent to their computer) and they don’t answer you are going to start guessing random places… because they will, what answer? Of course the kid is in Zachary park. And of course he has had some sort of psychotic break, errr, I mean Regression Moment.

Another classic bad moment: The ‘ooo’ moment of the fact that the kid is actually the reincarnation of… A Little GIRL!

“It’s a Texas thang [her insistence on driving in the city], trucks, guns and the death penalty.” Several Texans just hung their head in shame. And that’s saying something. Apparently Texans also have bad taste in jewelry and are bossy about their coffee.

Ahhhhh skeptical detective man is also superstitious man who believes in bad luck. But not in coincidences. (also a widower, but I’m sure that is just a shameless eventual plot moment right?) This show makes my brain hurt.

“Husbands are like Jesus, just another white man telling me what to do” said without a trace of irony by a rich southern white woman.

The intuitive leap of “The clue is referencing a tall building with a red light on it. Which could be lots of places in the city we are in, but not that many places in say… that city over there.”

The murdered girl was killed a month before our Regression driven teen boy was born….. So this show has now not only decided that Reincarnation is real, but that recycled souls can implant themselves into fetuses not at the moment of conception…. But rather at some point before birth. I guess that straddles the abortion line pretty well wouldn’t you say? It has a recycled soul… at X weeks! Hazah!

“he remembers being murdered.” Point of interest. If you are killed you therefore have no future memories… right? You would have the memories up until the point where everything goes black. But if you never wake up as an angel and see your body or end up talking to St. Peter, how would you actually know you had died? Wouldn’t you need a point of contrast? I was alive, now I am dead? Is the soul of the victim self aware and free loading off the teen? Am I the only one who thinks this doesn’t make any sense?

By the way, the FBI vouches for our intrepid Dr. Of course they do.

“The best way to deal with a skeptic is to rip the band aide off, tell ‘em who we are right up front.” I would counter that the best way to deal with a skeptic is with proof but since I have a feeling that this show is going to actually provide us with some “proof” I’ll hold my tongue.

Also, too many people with beautiful blue eyes. Come on folks. Where are all the attractive brown eyed people?

We won’t worry about things like evidence for our warrents… the kid psychic mumbled about a boat name and then we found a guy who owns a boat with that name… he must be our killer! Guess what. In this world, he is indeed the killer.

We don’t see the ensuing court case. Because no judge in their right mind would allow it and no jury even out of their minds would buy it (I hope). But since this is a crime procedural that is more concerned with being edgy and unique due to schtick, we aren’t really surprised.

At 38 minutes our skeptic has officially become a believer. Because…. That’s how skepticism works. We get distracted by the shiny and forget our critical thinking skills. Gah!

And in response to his fumbling ‘aww gee, I guess I have to believe now” bit her response is the classic condescending: “The greater the doubt, the greater the awakening.” She is going to quote Einstein as a way of validating pseudoscience.

Thankfully the credits rolled pretty soon after that.

Want to see for yourself? Episodes are available for free at Fox.com and hulu.com

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Heretic’s Daughter

Book Review for Kathleen Kent’s The Heretic’s Daughter.

Told as a recollection of the past by one of the children who is not only imprisoned during the Salem Witch Trials, but whose mother is one of the condemned, this book does everything it can to pull you in, bind you to the main character Sarah, and mark you for life.

The subject matter of the Salem Witch Trials is handled with a mix of reality and vague instances of women with some sort of “specialness” but the end result is the same. You know how it is going to end before you even begin and for this reason I must admit that I put off reading it for several weeks. One cannot read this book without feeling overcome with frustration and anger at the judges and accusers.

If it was simple that and nothing more, I would have been justified in my hesitation and this review would be scathing… but Kent’s saving grace is that she went beyond the bones of the story to add symbolism and an attempt to make the trials in some way resonate with today’s readers.

In a broad sense it is good to be reminded (especially in this day and age) that the “justice” systems of the past were anything but. In a more specific sense, the book illuminates the struggle between the generations, class, family ties loyalties, and maturity. In these areas, Kent shines. The sense of alienation between Sarah and her mother her anger, and later her overwhelming sadness are very real, very powerful, and very universal.

The prose is at times simple and childlike (which makes sense as it is written as the recollections of a young girl being recounted from the safety of old age) an at times flowery and poetic. The story itself is told well, but it is the trappings of society and the journey of Sarah as daughter learning to value her mother even as it is too late that make this book worth reading.

To be perfectly honest, I hate the cover art for this book. The “Sarah” pictured appears more sullen and sort of “I am attempting to appear woeful” than actually sympathetic or sad. The inner cover of my copy had a great shadowy picture of a tree which I actually liked a lot, but… who am I?