Escapist tosh and trash: what’s your poison?

Let’s get our head away from the hung parliament for a while! What populist fictional entertainments have you been enjoying lately in your preferred medium that are essentially just gussied-up melodrama or heroic quest or action mayhem? What are the aspects of that fictional setting/narrative that most strongly appeal to you?

Related questions: what is your preferred medium – page, video/film, audio or live on stage? What is the subtle distinction between tosh and trash? What escapist entertainments do you enjoy that rises, in your estimation, above the tosh/trash level?

I’ve been catching up on many years’ worth of David Suchet’s superb characterisation of Agatha Christie’s Poirot every weekday afternoon for the last month or so – most enjoyable melodramatic crime procedurals, with the superb attention to detail in the casting, costuming and sets making it a superior brand of tosh – it’s as enjoyable to watch for the little details as it is for the plot itself.

A selection of images from Spartacus: Blood and Sand, True Bloog (showing Pam), Poirot, the movie Inception, the book cover of Guards! Guards! by Terry PractchettI went to see Inception with the family last weekend, and I can’t quite decide whether it’s just tosh, total trash or a hybrid. I enjoyed it well enough while I was watching it, probably more so because unlike some others I didn’t worry too much about trying to keep track of the nested layers of narrative, but I haven’t had many moments from it jumping up into my memory over the last week, so it failed to make a lasting impact.

The Spartacus: Blood and Sand miniseries is very trashy tosh with action mayhem galore. A bit too Peckinpah with the slowmotion blood sprays etc for my taste, but the action scenes are well choreographed and the melodrama is enjoyable as much for the nitpicking opportunities as for the woefully over-simplified plot.

Then of course this week I saw the first episode of the third season of True Blood – tosh and trash so deeply intertwined it’s hard to discern the edges. I loved the snappy dialogue in this first episode of setting the scene, but I hope that they don’t let that overwhelm the meatier aspects of our melodrama in subsequent episodes. Plus Lucy Lawless and John Hannah being mongrels!

In reading, I’m catching up on Pratchett again – the Guards novels especially. His slyly cynical take on politics and social change is just what’s needed at election time.

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19 replies

  1. Mmm, True Blood. It’s like candy. 🙂
    Candy with blood.

  2. Spartacus! Epic, although I had to go back and check out Lucy Lawless twice to make sure it was her. Although I can’t understand how one man can take so much punishment and not loose a tooth or break a rib. I never realised that Ancient Rome had so many Maoris either. Not that I’m complaining as they are very easy on the eye.
    Love me some Poirot, and Miss Marple is good too.

  3. I can sense that I will need to catch up on Spartacus sometime Very Soon… 😀

  4. I’ve been reading Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels, currently on number 8 and on track to finish all 20 well before the end of the year, unless the local library has supply problems. It’s… classy tosh? He worked hard to bring you this colourful moment at sea with Jack Aubrey using gunpowder he sourced from fireworks manufacturers.
    I was alternating them with Naomi Novik’s Temeraire novels for a while, but there aren’t enough Temeraire books to keep doing it, and #6 sounds unfortunate at best. Plus the series seems to be a classic case of choosing the right story but with the wrong point-of-view character. And every time he might be about to demonstrate some expertise she moves him to a new continent, which puts paid to that.
    I’m more a page person than anything else. Movies are fine at times, but when it comes to TV series I am a commitment-phobe.

  5. Beppie is such an enabler with her True Blood lending *shakes head*. Presently I am watching Farscape which she also kindly lent me, which lovely and escapist. I find DVD boxsets are good study breaks but just lately I’m using them as life breaks…!
    My preferred escapist medium is telly because I don’t have to concentrate so hard. But a book is good, too. Live on stage will never be escapist for me, I find theatre physically exhausting to just be in the audience for, it sucks me in emotionally. Audio I, er, tend to fall asleep for unless I’m knitting at the same time, I’m afraid!
    Now excuse me while I go watch moar Farscape write my English essay.

  6. Being a game design student, my preferred escapist medium is… books. Or staring at the horizon, blinking like an owl. If I try and play games during the semester I just get into analysis mode, and can’t immerse myself properly.
    So the aspects of computer games that most strongly appeal to me are thinking about the design process, and appreciating all the hard work that the designers have done; all game designers being universally wonderful, generous people who work very hard and hug puppies frequently. And this kind of takes the fun out of playing games.
    Speaking of which, I played Jolly Rover recently and was really disappointed. It was just a tired, unfunny knock-off of Monkey Island. It seemed like a game I would love: non-human protagonist, an emphasis on wordplay and lots of puzzles, but I just found it really uncreative and linear. Sleep or death is an excellent game though, if you ever get to play it.
    Otherwise, I’ve been reading my way through Ursula LeGuin, and watching Star Trek and NCIS. Complete tosh, both of them, but I’m not watching them for brain points.

  7. Mary – great choice in reading. Do you have the partial 21st book in the series?

  8. Grendel, I am supporting my local library so far, and their catalogue is off-line right now. However, no, I think they don’t have the unfinished one.
    I can’t believe I forgot about computer games regarding escapist tosh. I am a non-game programmer, as in, a programmer of non-games, but I am also inclined to get analytical about them. For example last night I was trying to work out what game design in Civ IV would make some of the more obscure victory conditions (diplomatic, cultural) more attractive for regular play.
    Mario Kart Wii is my hands-down winner for tosh, but I haven’t been playing a lot lately. We’ve just finished up a Christmas gift voucher for 30 DVDs from Quickflix in 3 months. 30 DVDs in 3 months is at least 10 times my usually DVD consumption rate.

  9. I just got finished getting our PC back into running order so that I could play through the election weekend but ended up spending the time writing angry election rants instead.
    The other companion book worth reading if the library has it is ‘Lobscouse and Spotted Dog:Which it’s a gastronomic companion to the Aubrey/Maturin novels.
    Millers in Onion sauce – Mmmmm

  10. Which Le Guins have you read so far, Kim?

  11. My favourite thing at the moment is an iPad game called godfinger.
    You are the god and you can recruit new followers, make them build things on your planet, control the sun and the rain, blast things with lightening, etc. It’s great fun.

  12. My escapist tosh tends to be TV. The current tosh of choice is NCIS for me too; though I do go through a cycle of West Wing every few months and after the election shenanigans it might be time for another round soon (particularly as I will about a week at home after my surgery next month.
    That said, I’m also fond of books as escapist tosh, and have been going through another splurge on YA fiction since about April when my friend Karen’s book ‘Guardian of the Dead’ came out (which y’all should read if you haven’t already because completely aside from the fact that she’s a friend of mine the book is pretty awesomesauce *plugplug*
    I’ve been rather remiss in actually watching or going to movies, of late. I kept meaning to go see The Runaways, but never got around to it. The Canberra winter really does tend to mess with my desire to leave the house for all but the most necessary of things.

  13. Would you forgive me if I admit that my escapism in the last three weeks or so has been War and Peace? Not exactly escapist, but I could immerse myself in it, and forget about everything else for a while.
    My partner has noticed that Spartacus: Blood and Sand will be out on DVD soon, and he has suggested that it would make a very good birthday present for him. What an excellent idea!

  14. Deborah, you are hilarious. Don’t ever change.

  15. Like Jennifer, my escapist tosh of choice is TV, and NCIS is very heavily represented, yes. Pauley Perette, I loves ya!
    There is another kind of escapist tosh which I really, really love and I hesitate to bring it up here… Everyone else on the internets seems to be real hardcore sci-fi or fantasy geeks. When I was young (and something I still return to) I loved…
    horsey stories.
    I read every Pullein-thomson title you could shake a leather whip at.
    I recently pinched Alison Lester’s The Snow Pony from my niece and read it cover to cover.
    I have a copy of Jilly Cooper’s Riders, 50c at the local library offload sale, waiting for the warm days and comfy chair on the deck.
    And I lose myself in this.
    Now you know how truly sad I am.

  16. Oh, Helen. I loved the Pullein-Thomson books. And I also own a copy of ‘Riders’. The latter is really, really trashy.

  17. Oh yes Fine, I’ve seen you in Fugly Horse of the Day threads!

  18. “When I was young (and something I still return to) I loved… horsey stories.
    I read every Pullein-thomson title you could shake a leather whip at.
    I recently pinched Alison Lester’s The Snow Pony from my niece and read it cover to cover.
    I have a copy of Jilly Cooper’s Riders, 50c at the local library offload sale, waiting for the warm days and comfy chair on the deck.”
    Me too to the Pullein-Thomsons, and Jilly Cooper’s Riders (and the rest of the series). When Gruen Nation played Bob Hawke’s 1987 election ad last week I realised I remembered it from 1987 because it had a line in the middle about changing horses in midstream. Sadly obsessed, I was.

  19. Mary, I’m rationing myself on O’Brian.

    classy tosh

    Exactly. Kiss kiss, bang bang, pace Ian Fleming. They’re the kind of high-class potboilers that I’ve found end in skipped meals and sore eyes if I’m not careful—just like that bloody awful/great Dr Zhivago. And anything written by Arturo Pérez-Reverte probably has a week’s book-budget’s worth of swordplay and moustaches.
    Speaking of Russians, I’m enjoying Boris Akunin’s Erast Fandorin books. Sherlock Holmes crossed with James Bond via Tolstoy, according to the back cover, and it’s not far off.

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