Archive for the 'Television' Category

From the minds of Joss Whedon, Gene Roddenberry, and JJ Abrams come the sci-fi that brings the television to life.

Televisions shows for the pandemic

12-Aug-20 12:00 PM by
Filed under Television; Comments Off on Televisions shows for the pandemic

I grew up watching a lot of television: from Family Ties and Growing Pains to Cheers and Night Court; from Frasier and Home Improvement to Days of Our Lives and Nick at Nite. At some level, I knew it was too much, even going so far as to pen a (hypo)critical editorial for my school newspaper about our society's obsession with television.

Then, my junior year of college, I spent a half-semester in Australia, divorced of my viewing habits. When I returned to the States, my parents bequeathed to me exactly what I had asked of them: a dozen VHS tapes with every show I had missed. Overwhelmed by this backlog, I realized I had two decisions: I could frantically catch up and resume my unhealthy relationship with television; or I could wipe the slate clean and walk away. I chose the latter.

This was before streaming services existed, and by the time they were invented, I'd already filled that hole in my life with community theater, podcasts, and freelancing. As a result, I've watched hardly any television in the last twenty years — though there have been a few exceptions. I binged Buffy the Vampire Slayer each time a new season came out on DVD. Growing up reading DC Comics, I've made time to watch The Flash, again on DVD. And Star Trek was something I always shared with my dad; accordingly, the first streaming service I ever paid for was CBS All Access, so I had material with which to launch and co-host the podcast Transporter Lock. But other shows that captured the popular zeitgeist — 24, Lost, CSI, Boston Legal, King of Queens, Sopranos, Breaking Bad, House, Scrubs, The Office, The Walking Dead, Westworld, Game of Thrones — remained outside my realm of knowledge. Television just wasn't something I made time for.

Then the pandemic made time for me.

Six weeks in Madison, Wisconsin, followed by seven weeks in Havre, Montana — all while cut off from my usual social circle and almost all my friends across the country — left me with an unprecedented degree of downtime. I filled some of it with productive new projects, but more than usual, I needed an escape from the stress of the world.

These six new-to-me series have helped me cope during these difficult times. Five of them have concluded their runs, making them easy to binge.

The Good Place

I love Kristen Bell as much as much as Kristen Bell loves sloths. In this show's first episode, she wakes up in the afterlife, having died a horrible person — but, through a case of mistaken identity, she nonetheless finds herself in "The Good Place", architected by Ted Danson (Cheers). What follows is surreal hilarity and sharp dialogue steeped in visual nuance that you'll miss if you blink.

Wikipedia classifies The Good Place into four genres: comedy; fantasy; philosophical fiction; and dystopia. It is absolutely unlike anything I have ever seen. Its fourth and final season concluded this past January.

The Orville

The Orville premiered the same time as Star Trek: Discovery, produced by and starring Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy. Given this pedigree, the show was marketed as a parody of Star Trek, which didn't appeal to me.

But when I finally tuned in, I found it more thoughtful and engaging than I expected, and more akin to traditional Star Trek than anything CBS and Paramount are currently producing. I love the serialized shows Discovery and Picard, but the episodic nature of The Orville is a welcome balance. Its surprising takes on gender identity and original twists on black holes, time travel, and other science-fiction staples make for a great show — and that's even before you add all the Star Trek alumni among the regular cast and guest stars.

Galavant

Galavant is a medieval musical comedy series that I've wanted to see ever since it first aired in 2014. A veteran myself of such stage performances as Once Upon a Mattress, I loved the idea of a diverse cast of knights, squires, and and princesses interrupting their heroic quests to suddenly burst into song. The show is very self-aware, filled with anachronisms and fourth-wall-breaking humor reminiscent of Mel Brooks classics Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Blazing Saddles. Alas, Galavant lasted only two seasons.

Timeless

Ever since seeing the first Back to the Future 35 years ago this week, I've been fascinated by time travel and all its inconsistent temporal mechanics, from the butterfly effect to divergent timelines and causality loops. So when the 2016 series Timeless debuted, it immediately landed on my radar.

Superficially, the show is somewhat formulaic: the bad guys go back in time to kill someone famous, and the good guys follow to stop them. But the larger framework is a centuries-old secret organization with Nazi-like tendencies, with morsels of this conspiracy doled out just often enough to keep me hooked. The tension of our entire history being rewritten was balanced by some clever humor and meaningful character growth.

The show lasted only two seasons before being cancelled on a cliffhanger. But six months later, NBC allowed the producers to wrap up all the loose ends with a special two-hour series finale which, while rushed in parts, was nonetheless satisfying. Thank goodness — I don't think I could've handled another The Sarah Connor Chronicles, another two-season time-travel show that also ended on a cliffhanger.

TRON Uprising

Thirteen years ago this week, I interviewed John Knoll of Industrial Light & Magic about TRON's impact on Hollywood special effects. I may have been projecting a bit: this 1982 Disney movie about Jeff Bridges being pulled into a digital world populated by anthropomorphic programs undoubtedly influenced by love affair with personal computers.

I'd wanted to see the movie's animated sequel, TRON Uprising, ever since it debuted in 2012 — but it was never released to home video; I've had to suffice with listening to the Daft Punk-inspired soundtrack.

Now, finally, the show is available on Disney+, and it was worth the wait. TRON Uprising features an all-star cast including Elijah Wood, Bruce Boxleitner, Lance Henriksen, Paul Reubens, and Mandy Moore, as well as stunning cinematography and choreography. There were multiple sequences I rewatched simply because I'd never seen anything like it before.

As someone who dug Batman Beyond, I was here for this show about a young upstart growing into his hero's mantle. Alas, TRON Uprising was cancelled after two seasons.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

Oh, how I wish shows like this existed when I was a kid. Technically, it did: She-Ra was a 1985 spin-off of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. But those series were variety shows of physical altercations meant as marketing ploys for the corresponding action figures.

This modern Netflix reboot, about superpowered heroines coming together to defend their land and fulfill an ancient prophecy, is so much more. As Mey Rude wrote:

By modeling good communication and emotional intelligence, She-Ra shows its audience that talking about emotions is the best way to solve problems… She-Ra shows us that a variety of physical intimacies are healthy and good for kids of all genders together.… The series teaches us to find power in ourselves, believe in the good in people, and value our chosen family.

While watching She-Ra as a kid would not have made me any less straight or cisgender than I am, it would've been so validating to have role models who are allowed to be emotionally vulnerable, even (and especially) when it means defying gender stereotypes.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power concluded its fifth and final season this spring.


I didn't become a nomad so I could have more time to watch TV. One reason I did become a digital nomad was to identify what habits were personal and which were environmental. Do I do something because it brings me joy? Or because I'm accustomed to it, and my surroundings make it easy to do?

Visiting Australia was my first experience with disconnecting and self-discovery, when I learned that television is not something I need in my life. To that end, I'm not looking to start more series, lest I fall back into my teenage habits.

But right now, the above six shows' reassurances that there can be happy endings and brighter futures are welcome company.

What shows have you discovered — or rediscovered — during the pandemic, and what do you love about them? Leave a comment with your own vicarious tales!

(This post originally appeared on Roadbits)

Halt and Catch Fire adds sizzle to PC history

11-Jul-14 10:56 AM by
Filed under Reviews, Television; 2 comments.

In the fifteen years since I cancelled my cable service, the television landscape has changed: "reality TV" was invented, medical and legal procedural dramas boomed, and HDTV became the norm. So it was interesting to watch and review the AMC series Halt and Catch Fire for Computerworld. Not being an AMC subscriber, I bought a season pass for the first four episodes on Amazon Instant Video and paid for the fifth episode individually.

It's hard to judge any show by its early episodes — I doubt any of the various Star Trek series would've lasted long by that metric. So I tried to keep my critical eye at bay for the first few episodes, which was not easy. The three main characters — Joe MacMillian (Lee Pace), Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), and Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) — are trying to develop one of the first IBM clones of 1983, but their subterfuge and machinations, with both corporations and each other. I roll my eyes at such drama for the same reason that I stopped watching soap operas. MacMillian, who physically reminds me of a cross between John Cusack and Andy Garcia, is a vile businessman who oozes deceit and smarm. He's a character you love to hate.

Halt and Catch Fire

Lee Pace as Joe MacMillian. What a jerk.


But there are some really nice moments of character development, too. Clark, the show's Steve Wozniak-like character, struggles to realize his dream of creating the ultimate computer and will hitch his wagon to whoever can help him get there. At the same time, he's trying to be a good husband and father, though his family clearly isn't his priority.

Overall, I've enjoyed watching the first five episodes and will likely continue watching the series as time permits. For more details, read my full review on Computerworld.com, "Halt and Catch Fire adds sizzle to PC history".

DC superheroes on TV this fall

28-May-14 2:41 PM by
Filed under Television; 3 comments.

Superheroes are cashing in big at the box office — but on television, they're a gamble. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., despite being renewed, has received mixed reviews, while other shows such as The Cape haven't survived a single season. This fall, several shows are taking the bet that they can buck the trend and be a success on the small screen.

Capitalizing on the recent trilogy of Batman movies (and the successful line of Arkham video games), the Dark Knight comes to Fox this fall — though he's a minor character in his own show. Set in Bruce Wayne's youth, shortly after his parents are murdered, Gotham focuses on Detective James Gordon, the officer who would one day be police commissioner, as he investigates crimes and encounters characters such as Harvey Dent, Edward Nygma, and Selina Kyle, years before they become the villains that would haunt the city's night. It's a combination of superhero and police procedural that hopes to last longer than the other show to be set in Gotham and not feature Batman, that being 2002's Birds of Prey, cancelled after just 13 episodes. Check out the trailer for Gotham:

Why is comic book publisher DC capitalizing so heavily on the iconic character of Batman? Lest you think they've forgotten their rich cast of other superheroes, joining Arrow on The CW this fall will be the Scarlet Speedster himself, The Flash:

The FlashLook familiar? This character already had a television run with a 1990 live-action series starring John Wesley Shipp. That incarnation of the Flash lasted only one season and 22 episodes, with the high cost of production cited as a reason for its cancellation. But with special effects now more affordable and accessible than ever, it's not just the Flash that's getting a second chance: Shipp has been cast in a recurring role as the hero's father, Henry Allen. Lightning does strike twice!

I'm more excited about that casting decision than I am about 24-year-old Thomas Gustin as Henry's speedy son, Barry. He seems too young and similar in build to Andrew Garfield, whose second Spider-Man movie debuted earlier this month. I don't know how old Barry was in the comic books when he received his powers, and I'm not opposed to rewriting and adapting the source material — but Tobey Maguire did such a great job of showcasing powers thrust upon the young that I'd like to see a more mature hero in this role.

With Arrow and The Flash on the same network — and set in the same universe, as seen in the above trailer's crossover — is DC positioning itself to create a television pantheon to rival Marvel's silver-screen Avengers? If so, what role will Smallville play in this lineup? Superhero cameos were the norm in that decade-long incarnation of Superman, though the Green Arrow that appeared there is seemingly not the same character who now has his own show. Where will they go from here?

Of course, Marvel isn't going to let DC have all the fun. Complementing the second season of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be a precursor to the agency in Agent Carter, with Hayley Atwell reprising her role from the Captain America films. Based on the Agent Carter one-shot that was released with the Iron Man 3 DVD, the series will be set in 1946, during the post-WWII founding of S.H.I.E.L.D. Whether this show will be like Gotham in the unlikelihood of featuring superheroes, or will be closer to S.H.I.E.L.D. in its encounters with the unknown, remains to be seen.

Movies take only two hours to judge, but as fans of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Joss Whedon know, television shows can take years to mature and for characters to develop Let's hope these superhero spinoffs get that chance.

(Hat tip to Charlie Jane Anders via Gene Demaitre)

Agents of SHIELD comes to ABC this fall

14-May-13 4:38 PM by
Filed under Television; 1 comment.

It's not enough that Marvel will, by the end of this year, have produced three Iron Man movies, two Incredible Hulks, two Thors, a Captain America, and The Avengers. Having dominated the silver screen, they're now moving to master the smaller screen with this fall's debut of the television series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The show, which has been in production since 2012, officially passed the pilot stage on May 10 and is scheduled to air Tuesdays at 8 PM this fall on ABC, made official by the trailer:

(There's also a 30-second teaser trailer that's rather uninspiring.)

After watching the above, I'm curious what previous shows S.H.I.E.L.D. will draw upon. The trailer makes the agency sound like hunters of the superpowered, which is too reminiscent of Heroes, a show that started with great promise but quickly crashed and burned. Or will Marvel's show eschew a serial nature in favor of a phenomenon of the week, in the style of The X-Files?

(more…)

Game of Thrones: The good parts version

17-Mar-13 1:27 PM by
Filed under Films, Television; Comments Off on Game of Thrones: The good parts version

I read George R. R. Martin's maiden voyage into his Song of Ice and Fire franchise, and though I enjoyed the detailed and political world he crafted, I was not swept away. As a result, I've not found myself riveted to the television show or reading the rest of the series' novels.

A fantasy world that was also adapted to live action but which has entranced me is The Princess Bride. William Goldman's 1973 adaptation of S. Morgernstern's classic tale (the original of which I've still not found… huh) is as wonderful, whimsical, and dashing in literature as it is starring Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Wallace Shawn, and André the Giant.

The Princess Bride reunion photo

The magical cast, 25 years later.


So timeless, so enduring is that fairy tale that I can't help but wonder how much more successful the already flourishing Game of Thrones series would be if it adapted some of Goldman's more creative literary devices. Namely: What if the book Peter Falk read to Fred Savage was Martin's?

Having read the first book (the equivalent of seeing the show's first season), I encountered no spoilers in this video, only delight — and inspiration. My nephew recently turned five; how long before I can start reading my version of Martin's epic battle scenes to him? But, ah, kids these days — maybe the video game would be more his speed.

(Hat tip to Lauren Davis)

PBS remixes Reading Rainbow, Bob Ross

03-Dec-12 11:06 AM by
Filed under Television; Comments Off on PBS remixes Reading Rainbow, Bob Ross

Earlier this summer, non-profit public broadcasting television network PBS demonstrated surprising savviness when it recruited YouTube user melodysheep (musicalscience on Twitter) to create a remix music video of Mr. Rogers. With over seven million views, the video has been incredibly popular, proving an effective melding of nostalgia and modernity.

I should've realized PBS would know it had a hit on its hands and would follow up with additional hits. Today, PBS Digital Studios published its latest remix, a music video featuring Levar Burton of Reading Rainbow:

But wait, there's more! "In Your Imagination" wasn't PBS's second remix; that honor falls to this summer's publication of "Happy Little Clouds", a celebration of the soothing tones and happy little paintings of Bob Ross:

I love the themes that are present in all three of these shows and videos: creativity, imagination, and self-confidence. We can do anything we set our minds to, if only we believe in ourselves. It's a lesson that we need to hear as much as adults as we did as children. I'm just sorry none of the shows being celebrated are still on the air. Do we need to wait for a Sesame Street remix?

In celebration of her 100th birthday, Julia Child got a remix, too. See all four remixes in one playlist.

(more…)

Sherlock Holmes, anti-hero

01-Oct-12 1:38 PM by
Filed under Television; 4 comments.

In 2000, when the DVD medium was still emerging, I cancelled my cable service. I decided if I wanted to watch a show, it'd be years later and on disc. Doing so requires more effort than just flipping on the television, so I tend to limit myself to two genres with proven track records for piquing my interest: comedies (like Big Bang Theory) and the impossible (Star Trek, Heroes, Buffy). I thus eliminate not only all "reality" TV, soap operas, and hospital shows, but also the voluminous genre known as the police procedural drama: Law & Order, CSI, and countless others.

But when a friend sent me a procedural drama that he thought I'd find interesting, I chose to honor that gift and investigate it further. "This [protagonist]… is the closest thing to an obtainable 'super hero' status that I can think of," he wrote in the iTunes gift receipt. "I love and hope to be [him], if just for a day, once in my life."

The object of my friend's aspiration is the protagonist of Sherlock, a modern take on the great detective. It debuted on the BBC in July 2010 and has run for two seasons (or series, as they're called in the U.K.), with each composed of three 90-minute episodes. My gift was the first season.

When the first episode opened to flashbacks of Middle Eastern warfare, I thought I was watching the wrong show. I quickly discovered the show is a modern-day re-imagining, set in a world where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's books do not exist — which is why the main character can introduce himself without people asking, "Oh, like the detective?" This Sherlock Holmes is a twenty-something high-functioning sociopath who gets off on proving how smart he is. With the title of "consulting detective", he and his flatmate, war veteran Dr. John Watson, are called upon by the London police to solve crimes — not for financial reward, but for the thrill of the game.

Together, Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch — The Hobbit's Necromancer, and currently rumored to be the next Star Trek movie's villain) and Watson (Martin Freeman — The Hobbit's Bilbo Baggins!) solve a variety of deaths, with the first two episodes focusing on serial killers who make their murders look like suicides. As independent detectives, the pair are not above the law, but they do tend to operate outside it, not being confined by warrants, rights, and the like. Rather than rely on modern crime-solving techniques such as DNA analysis and forensics, Sherlock employs the science of deduction: observing minute clues — Is her wedding ring tarnished or polished? How muddy were his shoes, and where was it raining today? — and extrapolating reasonable yet astonishing conclusions. It's reminiscent of the theory behind Isaac Asimov's short story "Feminine Intuition": feed a brilliant character enough random information, and some meaningful connection will come out of it.

As someone ignorant of Sherlock's television contemporaries, I cannot say what sets this series apart from other police procedurals. There are some subtle effects, such as anytime a main character reads a text message on his cell phone, rather than show the audience the phone, the text is simply superimposed over the current scene. Or when Sherlock is scrutinizing a scene, the camera quickly cuts among and zooms in on his various observations. But the actual outline of discovering and solving crimes doesn't strike me as particularly unique — except for the crimes requiring someone of Sherlock's intellect to solve, often leaving even the audience in the dark until the last minute.

Martin Freeman as Dr. John WatsonAs in the original novels, the homely Watson is a foil to Sherlock, but he's an interesting character in his own right. He spends time looking for a job, pursuing romance, and recovering from his war wounds — he's an Everyman to whom the audience can relate.

By comparison, Sherlock lives up to his self-description as a sociopath: someone "who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience." Sherlock continuously shows an absence of empathy and sympathy for the potential colleagues and clients he encounters. In fact, the dumber he makes them feel, the better he seems to feel himself, going as far as to demonstrate his self-confidence and self-importance in such bold declarations to the police as "This will all go much more quickly if you take my word as gospel!" It goes beyond a preference for logic and efficiency over emotion: Sherlock is completely without awareness or understanding why not everyone is like him. Sometimes this shortcoming can be a stumbling block for understanding criminals' or victims' motivations: "Her daughter died years ago; why would she still be upset about it?" Sherlock asks, baffled by what would be obvious to any feeling person.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock HolmesI've always enjoyed Star Trek's Vulcan characters, from Spock to Tuvok, for not letting personal feelings get in the way of the mission, but Sherlock's ego elevates him beyond such likability. Although he is motivated to save lives hanging in the balance, it is only because he sees doing so as a victory, rather than any actual value he places on human lives. "Will caring about them help me save them?" he asks rhetorically. Caring is the purview of an entirely different class of person, one he dismisses: "Heroes don't exist; if they did, I wouldn't be one of them."

Unfortunately for the young Mr. Holmes, I prefer my heroes to be relatable. I don't believe ability alone is enough to make a character enviable; otherwise, we'd be celebrating Hitler for his speechmaking, or Lee Harvey Oswald for his marksmanship. It's how and, just as important, why those skills are used. Yes, we all want to feel smart, but rarely at the expense of others, or to benefit our own ego and nothing else. Look at Scott Bakula's character Sam Beckett, the star of Quantum Leap. Dr. Beckett had an I.Q. of 267 and seven doctoral degrees — yet he exemplified humility and worked in the service of humanity, not just for the potential reward of "the leap home", but because he genuinely cared about people. He had a passionate sense of justice and could not abide by selfishness, pettiness, racism, or other wrongdoing, no matter the perpetrator, crime, place, or era. Sam Beckett is a hero I admire and look up to, whereas today's Sherlock Holmes has no interest in even pretending to be one.

I have no doubt that the friend who bequeathed this series to me doesn't wish himself to be a sociopath. Instead, it is Sherlock's mental prowess that sets himself apart from other modern-day detectives. The rest of his personality turned me off after the first two episodes, but I thought it foolish to watch so much of the first season and not finish the deed, so I dutifully sat through the final show … and was surprised to find it the best of the lot. There was even one scene that had me on the edge of my seat — a remarkable feat for characters I claim to not be invested in. The season ended on a mild cliffhanger which left me a bit confused yet eager for resolution.

Will I watch the rest of the series? A serial television show often requires a significant commitment, up to 18 hours of viewing for a single season. But Sherlock's abbreviated nature demands only 4.5, which is far more tolerable. So despite my misgivings, I'm willing and able to go outside my genre limitations and see what further mysteries await the pairing of Holmes and Watson. The show is afoot!

Application to SHIELD

26-Sep-12 3:12 PM by
Filed under Humor, Television; Comments Off on Application to SHIELD

In 2012, four Marvel superheroes combined their franchises into one summer blockbuster: The Avengers. This team consisting of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk was assembled by agents of the secret military agency known as Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division — SHIELD for short.

ABC wants to know more about this agency and has ordered a television pilot. Best of all, they're tapping Avengers director Joss Whedon — creator of Buffy, Dollhouse, and Dr. Horrible — to co-write and possibly direct.

Just as SHIELD did, Whedon is assembling an all-star team, and graphic designer Adam Levermore wants in. He has worked on the Battlestar Galactica, Serenity, and The Guild franchises, which he feels make him the perfect candidate to work in the super nerdy world of superheroes. Although I'm not familiar with his name and only vaguely familiar with his work, I have to admit that he makes a convincing case for his application to the SHIELD series:

I'd hire him. Wouldn't you?

And if you don't get the closing joke to Adam, you need to see "Once More, With Feeling"!

(Hat tip to Cheezburger)