Month: October 2012

Meet Disney’s New Princess

Meet Disney’s New Princess

With Disney acquiring the rights to Star Wars they now also own the rights to at least two new Disney princesses. Princess Leia and Princess Amidala. Now just for a second think about this. The Television show Once Upon a Time has been given the rights to use any and all Disney princesses in their production. In fact the show is basically all about the various princesses and each one is slated to be on the show at some point. I don’t honestly think that the show’s producers would do this but a cameo by either one of the Star Wars princesses would be epic. OK, I am a huge Geek and my geek slip is showing. However, last week the Mad Hatter said that he could travel to any world that had magic in it. If the “Force” is not magic I don’t know what it is. (It is certainly not microscopic organisms in a person’s blood stream). If anyone at Disney is reading this, the fans want slave Leia to make an appearance on the show. Please, we all really want to see that or even Amidala she could make an appearance as well.

Besides Once Upon a Time, Disney has the ability to open up a whole host of Star Wars related Princess products that never existed under George Lucas. Imagine the possibilities.

Disney Buys Star Wars

Today will be remember in the annals of history for two events. First the horrible aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and second the salvation of Star Wars from the death of a thousand cuts it has suffered under George Lucas. Here at the Freehold we are huge fans of the juggernaut capitalism of Walt Disney. The man and his legacy were genius. Today I have just heard word that Disney has purchased Lucas Films which include the rights to the Star Wars Universe for 4.05 billion dollars. A few years ago Disney bought Marvel comics to get the movie rights and If the Marvel movies are any indication the new Star Wars movie… yes you heard that right “NEW STAR WARS” movie that Disney is planning for 2015 will be epic.

We can all be thankful that Star Wars is out of the hands of that horrible hack George Lucas.

May the Force be with Disney.

Wagon Train to the Stars*: How the American Frontier Experience Created Modern Science Fiction

Wagon Train to the Stars*: How the American Frontier Experience Created Modern Science Fiction

Frederick Jackson Turner changed the face of American history when he introduced his thesis on the importance of the American Frontier experience in 1893. While not initially embraced his work is seminal in understanding how historians and even the public viewed the frontier for almost a hundred years. In Rereading Frederick Jackson Turner we find a succinct series of essays on the American frontier and how it shaped the United States. This powerful collection of essays encompasses Turner’s frontier thesis. No single American Historian has had such an effect on our culture. His ideas are so poignant that they stretch well outside academia. His revolutionary rethinking of the American frontier reached out from the classroom into boardrooms and even colored public policy decisions. So pervasive were his ideas we can now see how these ideas became the basis for segments of American pop-culture.  The introduction to Turner’s book suggests that his thesis of the frontier as the lifeblood of the American character resonated with academia and the public alike. Turner’s readers believed that his work gave reason to the economic downturn that accompanied what they saw as the closing of the West in 1890. To them the end of the frontier meant that America was in the doldrums and new frontiers needed to be opened for America to prosper. They believed they had been shaped by the frontier experience into a people who thrived on the cusp of the unknown and needed frontiers to bolster their individualist spirit.

The rise of science fiction in the early part of the twentieth century can be directly traced to the closing of the Western frontier. Frontier themes permeate early American science fiction. These are tales of high adventure featuring exploration of unknown lands, meeting the natives, and often blasting them with ray-guns. The meshing of Science Fiction and the frontier experience begins in 1898 with the first piece of “fan fiction” Edison’s Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss . This novel which is an unofficial sequel to H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds sets the stage for all modern space opera.  It introduces the audience to almost every aspect of American science fiction. These ideas would dominate the Science Fiction genre until the 1960s.  It is in Serviss’ novel that we see the first hint of the American Frontier in Science Fiction. Where the original story by Wells is a tale of survival against all odds, Serviss’ story is an all American tale of frontier individualism conquering against an unknown and implacable foe. It ties directly into the popular ideas of the American West being promoted in the dime novels of the late 1800s. Later writers such as Edgar Rice Burroughs would again revisit these same frontier themes in his Martian stories. Time and again American fiction would probe the new frontier of space carrying with it a cowboy mentality only now dressed up in a spacesuit instead of a stetson and carrying his trusty ray-gun instead of a colt. Native Americans transformed into Aliens ready to play both bad-guy and guide in the new frontier. Is it any wonder that science fiction and American frontier mythology share many of the same genre tropes. Both share in the exploration and conquering of the unknown. Science fiction in America was fiction powered by a cultural belief in “Manifest Destiny”.

This returns us to Frederick Jackson Turner’s thesis. It had and still to some extent has reverberations throughout American society. American History according to Turner is the history of the frontier. Our entire culture revolves around our unique origin.  Every society needs its myths and legends and this is especially true of America with it’s population composed of such disparate origins and background. The frontier provides us with a collective myth on which to base our shared experience as Americans. We are all cowboys, we are all mountain men, we are all astronauts, and we are all seeking the next frontier.

 

Rereading Frederick Jackson Turner “The Significance of the Frontier in American History”, By Frederick Jackson Turner with commentary by John Mack Faragher. New York, NY: H Holt & Company, 1994. 255 pages

*Gene Roddenberry used this phrase to sell Star Trek to TV executives

Book Review – A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

When a series of books spawns an award-winning HBO Series, I suppose one should take notice.  I have an aversion to popularity contests when it comes to books, but I decided to give this one a try.  I was not disappointed.

Probably the best thing this book does is get rid of a lot of fantasy novel norms.  The good guys are always good and the evil guys always evil being one of them.  This book dismisses that idea by giving each character both lovable and despicable qualities.  Even the honorable Eddard Stark of Winterfell in this book has his flaws: he has fathered a bastard child, he is stubborn and headstrong and to be blunt is not political in a place where he should be political.  On the flip side the evil characters do have some good in them in at least the form that many fight for their family.  Don’t get me wrong, the villains are indeed villains but they often surprise you  in some ways.

The novel’s literary form basically switches from character to character.  Each chapter begins with the name of the character that is the focus.  During that chapter the story is told from their point of view.  I find this is one of the best ways to tell a story other than to have just one person the focus for the whole story telling it from a first person point of view all the way.  The writer can keep certain secrets this way and pass time quicker simply by changing character.

The world of A Game of Thrones is has a  great medieval feel to it but is truly its own world.  Magic is this world, at least so far as this book has taken us so far, is subdued but you get the feeling that great power slumbers beneath the surface.  Religion and faith magic is very real but also subdued.  The creatures of myth are few and far between but you also feel that there will be more to it later.  This starts out as a simple medieval tale but as it grows the complication and the power is growing with it.  It is like seeing the begining of a long fuse lit, knowing in the end it is going to lead to a big explosion

This is where you can tell that George Martin was writing with his eye on a sequel.  This book only takes you through the beginning of the story and sets the scene for later.  It provides the needed early character and situational development that will be needed for the sequels.  Martin is also not afraid to develop great characters and then kill them off.  This is what give the book its realistic feel.  The good guys die and evil sometimes does indeed triumph from time to time.  Things are not always nice and battles are not glorious affairs but often brutal and bloody.

The story is intensely political.  The queen’s words: “you either win at the game of thrones or you die” are very true.  Honor in this world can be a real liability as well as an asset.  But the bad guys also have their bad moments as they often underestimate the good characters because they are honorable.  The weapons of this game are not just swords either; sex and intrigue also have their roles to play. Yep, this is an adult fantasy book so be advised if you see your eight year old reading it.

Are there some conservative themes?  Well, to George Martin’s credit, he does not create a world where women are equal to men.  Titles are handed down through the male side of the house and this is realistic for ancient and medieval societies.  One thing I could note from this is the simple fact that women’s equality is only as much as is allowed by men and this has always been true.  Not to say, that there are no powerful women in the book, but they do not achieve their power through claiming they should be equals but by simply being women in the truest sense of the word.

The other conservative theme might be the simple fact that one of the great causes of trouble for Eddard Stark is a lack of funds brought on by wanton spending by King Richard.  It is this debt that has put less than savory characters into power.  They are needed to constantly raise funds for these overindulgences.  Debt is never a good thing and brings out the jackals.

If the book has a downside, it is the simple fact that it is very long.  Be prepared for a long read only to realize the story has only started.  Things are definitely left hanging for the next book. So if you are the kind of person who wants to see resolution of a story in a single novel, you will not have it here.

All in all, the book is a worthy read that will have you ready for the next one.  Definitely worth the money and the time.

Halloween Podcast

Halloween Podcast

We will be doing a live pod cast tonight for Halloween. It has been decided that we will be at Shadowline Park in Chesterfield North Carolina. It is considered one of the most haunted locations in Western N.C. We will be doing the audio Podcast live and we will be filming the podcast and surrounding area looking for Ghosts. So be sure to tune in around 5:30 or 6:00 for the start of the podcast. Click on the Freehold Podcast link to get to the show.

Dystopias

Dystopias

The second installment of the movie version of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is out now, which is sparking renewed interest in the late author’s works.  In one on-line forum, someone brought up her novella, Anthem.  As in George Lucas’ THX-1138, or William F. Nolan’s Logan’s Run, the average citizen is reduced to a number.

I find that rather unrealistic.

Dystopian novels where everyone is reduced to a number, and the concept of the individual ceases to exist bother me on a number of levels. First, it flies in the face of human psychology and reproductive strategy. Second, it implies that the founders of that society, and a plurality, if not majority of that society’s first generation were more than willing to go along with those leaders in no longer answering to their given names but to accept a non-individual identity. This also flies in the face of human psychology. While I can understand the desire of most societies to exist under a strong alpha male (we are, after all, glorified monkeys), the beta through omega males want some recognition and a shot at passing their genes on. Successful societies play on these desires to achieve their goals. Thus they regularly recognize individual accomplishments in an effort to inspire others to work toward advancing society materially or morally.

North Korea is probably the most dystopian society on the planet, in the history of the world. And yet, the North Koreans have individual names, and they reward exemplary effort. They have to, because otherwise the people who make up that society will lose faith in its leadership and try something else.

I used to have arguments with people online about the nature of the Soviet Union. The common belief there was of a police state where everyone lived in fear of disappearing. I kept pointing out that it requires human beings to maintain such a society, and they’re not likely to be very effective if they’re always worried they might run afoul of the powers that be. I also pointed out there were scads of Russians who longed for the days of Stalin. If they all lived in fear of their lives, why would they want a return to that?

Orwell’s dystopia (1984) made no sense to me. Even its leadership was subject to disappearing — though it was never mentioned who the person making these decisions was. Someone would have to operate without fear of retribution — and he would have to have a number of trusted flunkies who felt the same way. And there would have had to be enough people in that world who believed everything was just hunky-dory or the whole system would collapse. Remember, even if they tried to eradicate the concept of revolt against the system, someone would have to understand that concept to root it out in other citizens, and that person could not be alone as he would need help in a society of millions.

Rand’s dystopias strike me the same way. They are unrealistic and therefore do not make sense to a rational reader. Neither she, nor Orwell, nor half a dozen science fiction writers (Ursula LeGuin and Anne McCaffrey, I’m looking at you) really understands human nature enough to create a decent dystopian society.

The Beetle: A Forgotten Classic

The Beetle was first published in March of 1897 in the literary magazine “Answers” as a serial story under the name “The Peril of Paul Lessingham: The Story of a Haunted Man”. Written by the enigmatic Richard Marsh the Serial ran for fifteen weeks and was initially targeted at a lower class audience. Then in September of 1897 the serial was repackaged as a novel and refined for the middle and upper middle class. The name was changed to reflect the tastes of this new audience and the novel was published with mostly good reviews.

The novel was continually in print until the late 1920s and it went through 27 print runs in that time. During the late 19th and early 20th century it would be more popular than Dracula, with which it shared similar themes. The Beetle then fell into obscurity in the 1930s. It was not really rediscovered until the 1960s and had very little critical evaluation until the early 1970s. It’s rediscovery among literary critics is due to the themes of sexuality and gender confusion that pervade the novel. The novel’s intense focus on gender in Victorian society has been the crux of much of the modern literary interest and has spurred new editions to be published by several different printing companies. As the book is in the public domain it can also be found free online at sites such as Project Gutenberg and several free editions on Kindle.

Gender, feminism, and homosexuality are the main focus of the novel. The book explores these in depth and the attitudes of the Victorian to each of these in enlightening. These attitudes tell us much about the foundations of our own culture which owes so much to the Victorians in terms of cultural mores and our expectations of gender roles. The Beetle turns gender roles upside down. Portraying women in drag and showing us a very dominating woman who is often mistaken for a man. Not only does the novel delve into the ideas of gender it is also a cautionary tale of mixing the mysticism of the East with the culture and science of the West. The themes of otherness and of eastern influences which corrupt and even dominate white Victorian society are also very prevalent in the novel. Finally the novel is viewed in terms of the psychological oppressiveness of its environment. The villain/creature roams the streets of London hiding in dark places that allow her freedom to work her black magics on her victims.

Most of the literary criticism of this novel has revolved around the idea of gender. The novel is full of scenes of women dressing and acting as men. Much of this gender swapping is forced by the hypnotic suggestion of the priestess of Isis but the character of Marjorie Holt who is forced to dress and act as a man has already been introduced to the reader as one of the “New Women”. She is a feminist and her feminism is juxtaposed against her transgender domination by the priestess of Isis. This priestess when first viewed is almost universally mistaken for a man. These two women form a core of feminist ideology and gender confusion around which the novel becomes rich fodder for gender, feminist, and queer criticism. “Victorian fear of the den depravity, the hidden potency, of the female.” (Hurley 213) the idea of the female using her sexuality was frightening to the Victorian mind. This is a common theme in Victorian literature and it is fully on display in The Beetle. Not only is the priestess able to dominate her victims mentally she is able to walk in both the world of man and woman. She is the ultimate predator both sexually and physically.

Secondary to the modern reader but more important to those contemporary to the novel is the idea of post colonialism, or even reverse colonialism that is presented. “The Other” as represented by the priestess of Isis can be seen as an infection of Western culture by that of the far East. The creature could be seen as a “means of the appropriation and destruction of symbols of the moral, spiritual, and racial superiority of England’s ruling class- its women.”(Garnett 30). The Monster feeds through its domination of women and men, in this way the creature corrupts Victorian society and everything it touches. It is made plain in the book that the monster craves the white flesh of its victims. It wants both to have that flesh literally and to possess it sexually. This sexual corruption is certainly an allusion to the fear of the “Other” or people moving into London from the colonies. The creature in craving white flesh could be seen as a Victorian fear of miscegenation. The average Victorian must have felt that natives arriving in London were not much better than primitive savages and were there to corrupt and destroy their society.  The Beetle came along at just the perfect time to feed into these ideas of reverse colonization. This may go a long way towards explaining why this novel did so well originally even outselling Dracula in its day and it also may be a reason it declined in sales after the first World War as cultural fears began to change in the West. It would be interesting to look at how interest in the novel changed over time with cultural value changes.

The reader of the novel also can’t help but be struck by the environment in which the novel takes place. Some of the literary criticism has taken the environment and ecology into account when looking at the novel. Based in 19th century London The Beetle takes place in a crowded and dark urban environment. Much of the action of the novel takes place at night and in the shadows. This idea of the environment adding to the fears of the reader has not been lost on the critical reviewers of the piece. Speaking of  Marsh’s work Minna Vuohelainen states “his fiction provides us with phobic readings of monstrosity which are closely linked to the spatial experiences of fin-de-siècle London.”(Vuohelainen 32). Her supposition is that much of the horror in The Beetle is derived from a fear of claustrophobia. London at the turn of the century provided a perfect setting for this type of fear. It was crowded and a constant pallor of smoke lay oppressively over the city. The city was almost a living organism itself giving rise to a fear of being overwhelmed by it at any moment. Onto this backdrop Marsh sets his story of sexual perversion and horror and it created a true psychological mixture that put fear into the audience. I don’t think any of us not living in that city at that time could fully appreciate the gothic novels that revolve around the oppressive nature of London.

            The Beetle is a rich nuanced text full of both horror and what would seem like overt sexual situations to the Victorian mind. By today’s standards these seem a little dated and most of the action is hinted at rather than blatant. There is however something to be said for horror that occurs off screen. Our minds are free to create the most intense horror for ourselves, out of our own imagination, and from our own intimate fears. The Beetle creates a world in which the Victorian mind would have felt fear and anxiety. It is a novel dominated by women out of their natural element. Women corrupted by vile magic. This is true of both the female villain who transforms from Man, to beetle, to priestess or the female victim suffering the sexual appetites of the villain and being forced into a transgendered parody of herself. The Beetle is a masterpiece of horror that gives us many different visions of how the Victorian mind looked at sex, foreigners, and the horror of their own backyard.

 

 

Works Cited

 

Hurley, Kelly. “The Inner Chambers of all Nameless Sin: The Beetle, Gothic Female Sexuality, and Oriental Barbarism.” Virginal Sexuality and Textuality in Victorian Literature. ed. Lloyd Davis. New York: Suny Press 1993: 193-213. Print.

 

Garnett, Rhys. “Dracula and The Beetle: Imperial and Sexual Guilt and Fear in Late Victorian Fantasy”. Science Fiction Roots and Branches. ed.  Rhys Garnett and R.J. Ellis. New York: St. Martin’s, 1990: 30-54. Print.

 

 

Vuohelainen, Minna. “Cribbd, Cabined, and Confined: Fear, Claustrophobia and Modernity in Richard Marsh’s Urban Gothic Fiction.” Journal of Literature and Science 3.1 (2010): 23-36. JLS online. Web. 10 Apr. 2012.

Highbrow? – Hey, It Just Comes with the Territory

Perhaps there are some who visit this site and read our articles and make the accusation that the site is too highbrow.  To them I wish I could apologize but it just comes naturally for us conservative / libertarian types.  To be both you have to cut against the grain and that means you are going to think differently from everyone else.  It is very easy look at entertainment like we do and offer up criticism or praise if you are going to simply say what everyone else is.  It is much harder to look at it with a different point of view in mind.  Particularly if you are going to be judge entertainment based on a particular point of view that people do not find popular.

The entertainment industry is largely liberal and those who review it are also liberal.  I do not think this is in any way a stretch, it is simply so.  Unlike those liberal reviewers who deny this is true of themselves, we here at The Freehold do not.  We make it our stock in trade to say “I am a conservative and a libertarian and I think this movie, book, tv show, website, etc. is a bunch of liberal trash” or the opposite.  This is simple plain honesty.  It also simply comes with being conservative and libertarian.

As a conservative, I look at science fiction and fantasy with an eye to what I think works economically, socially or politically.  I am not interested in someone presenting an idea that in real life would not work in these areas.  It is interesting that liberals do feel that we can just spend our way to prosperity, but at the same time it is interesting that they never promote this idea in their fiction.  If you are going to present an ideological system for the public in science fiction or fantasy wrapping paper, then it still better be practical.

As a libertarian, I think books and movies that promote the idea that too much freedom is a bad thing for the individual are wrong.  Hey, I understand duty and honor, but those are things people should have to embrace because they have chosen to embrace them.  I understand law, but laws should be used to protect individual rights not restrict them.  It takes thinking to divided the line in the right place.

Notice the last two paragraphs, I do not judge a book or movie about what I FEEL about it, but what I THINK about it.  This is the classic difference between liberals and conservatives.  I have to think about things. Feelings are not right or wrong and therefore they are not a judge of right or wrong.  Feelings do provide passion, but they should never form the basis of what we do.  We should think about what we are going to do and then put our feelings behind that thought.  Science Fiction and Fantasy’s purpose if done right, does not just entertain, it should cause you to think and thus look at things differently.

This is why I don’t think this site can escape the label ‘highbrow’  Highbrow simply means that it is done with a scholarly mind.  A scholarly mind that thinks about what the issue at hand is and offers an opinion on that thought, not on what is felt.  Feelings may be there but to the scholar, they should be shaped by thought, not the other way around.  Highbrow is then simply just a product of being conservative and libertarian – it means you think first.

It is a moniker I will gladly accept.

 

Dracula Returns to TV on NBC

Dracula Returns to TV on NBC

Daniel Knauf creator of Carnivàle will be bringing the Dracula legend back to life for NBC in a new ten part series starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the undead Count. Knauf has stated his Dracula will be true to the original monster and will not be one of the current brand of metrosexual, whining, fang boys. I look forward to Mr. Knauf’s vision. As a student of Gothic horror, Dracula is one of my favorite Victorian novels right after The Beetle……. Mr. Knauf if you are reading this we need a TV show or movie based on The Beetle it is the perfect project for the modern audience. Very few stories even today feature a transsexual, energy vampire, who is also a giant beetle, But I digress.

Dracula returning to the small screen has made me nostalgic for my favorite vampire movies. For a creature who according to the Hollywood legend can’t be filmed, Dracula and his vampire minions have been featured on more rolls of celluloid than probably any other monster. It would be almost impossible to discuss even a tenth of the movies inspired by Bram Stoker’s masterwork so I would like to focus on the ones I feel have done the best job conveying the creature Stoker created. While these films are not always faithful reproductions of the novel, I feel they capture the feel and even some of the subtext of the book. I refer of course to the Hammer Films “Dracula” movies.
The first of these was released in 1958 and was simply called “Dracula”.  As I said it is not fully faithful to the novel but I believe it to be faithful to Stoker’s vision of Dracula. Dracula is not a sympathetic figure he is a predator both feeding off the living and a sexual predator, a creature of desire. In the novel Stoker introduces us to a host of sexually alluring vampires which feed off their hapless victims. Stoker’s  female vampires are described in animalistic terms. They lick their scarlet lips, they arch their backs suggestively, and they use sexto their advantage . These are not your typical Victorian women. Hammer films capture these creatures perfectly. They are walking talking damnation both sexually and physically. A danger to any man or women they happen to meet. The Victorian sexual prudishness is exposed by these creatures and Hammer productions exposes the same vein of prudishness in 50’s society. In fact, while there is very little nudity or even real overt violence in the first hammer “Dracula” feature that first movie was given an X rating. By today’s standards the film could be aired almost in its entirety on television.

These films feature Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as Von Helsing. They are not in every film in the series but do have recurring roles throughout.

The movies Hammer Films produced about Dracula are

1. Dracula
2. The Brides of Dracula
3. Dracula Prince of Darkness
4. Taste the blood of Dracula
5. Scars of Dracula
6. The Satanic Rites of Dracula
(There may be a couple more I have forgotten)

these movies are well worth watching my favorite is “The Satanic Rites of Dracula” mainly because Dracula in this movie is a monster but one that is much more intelligent and thoughtful than in the earlier movies. I prefer my vampires evil the way they were meant to be Hammer Films deliver. Let’s hope the new Dracula TV show delivers as well. I’ll be watching.

Aliens and Serial Killers: The New Season of American Horror Story

Aliens and Serial Killers: The New Season of American Horror Story

Spoilers……

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the first season of American Horror Story. The show is brilliant. As much as I would probably hate the politics of the show runners Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk I can give them a pass simply because they are masterful storytellers. If you know anything about me you know that for me story is the most important aspect of any entertainment endeavor. So last season was a masterpiece of the storyteller’s art.

We have been promised that each season will be a different type of horror and that each Season will be one encapsulated story. An anthology series in which each story is a season long. Has this ever been attempted before? If not this is a genius idea. The new season introduces us to an entire cast of new characters, some of which are being played by actors from the first season. In the same way that each season will be a separate story the show runners have promised that each season will feature a different kind of supernatural horror (they have promised never to have that horror be vampires).  I was wondering what this season could possibly have in store for us as the monster/ghost/etc and as I watched last night and it blew me away. (Ok, that pun was intentional and when you watch the first episode you will know why) all I need to say is that we are being presented with a story that combines serial killers and aliens. Before last night I would have said “That’s Insane” (another intentional pun). I would have never believed that you could combine the two and create a watchable show but Murphy and Falchuk have pulled it off.

Now I did have some minor quibbles. The show starts off with some very stiff, uneven, and even unwieldy dialogue.  I believe the problem stemmed from needing to quickly impart to the viewer what the show was about and this led to an overabundance of expository dialogue and that never works well. As the show progressed across the hour it left this behind and by the end the dialogue was crisp and worked well. At least we have now been informed about each of the character’s motivations so I expect no more problems.

As I was watching I thought the inclusion of the aliens would end up being just part of Kit Walker’s (Evan Peter) psychological delusion. I was floored when the Doctor (James Cromwell) discovered an alien implant in Walker’s neck. We will see more of that implant I am sure. The fact that the aliens abducted an interracial couple seems likes an appropriate homage to the story of Betty and Barney Hill who claim to have been abducted in the early 1960s. I am giving this show very high marks and believe that it will be one of the television highlights of the season.