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 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.


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)

Super Megafest 2012: Superman, Hercules & TRON

31-Dec-13 1:29 PM by
Filed under Potpourri; 1 comment.

Super Megafest 2013 was held last month, and I've not yet posted my report from the 2012 event. Today being New Year's Eve, this is my last chance to not fall two years behind.

Super Megafest is held every November the weekend before Thanksgiving in Framingham, Massachusetts. It's an odd panoply of minor celebrities, comic book artists, former pro wrestlers, and nostalgia. This was my sixth time attending Super Megafest, with previous shows having brought encounters with Larry Storch, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Christopher Lambert, and Sean Astin, among others. Personalized autographs from each year's attractions are sold for anywhere from $20 to $100, depending on the celebrity's star power, but the one-hour Q&A panels are what really draw me to the event. Some celebrities (like Patrick Stewart) are better in a crowd than they are one-on-one, and it's fun to share in the knowledgeable yet zany questions an audience can ask.

The first panel I attended in 2012 starred Dean Cain, best known as Superman from the television series The Adventures of Lois and Clark. When I asked, he debunked the myth that Gerard Christopher, who'd previously played Superboy, had originally been offered the part. In fact, the final two candidates for the role of Clark Kent were Cain and Kevin Sorbo, who was also in attendance at that Super Megafest. Fortunately, there was no animosity between the two, as Sorbo not getting that television role in 1993 made him available a year later to star in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Unfortunately, a throwdown between Superman and Hercules was also not on the agenda.

Cain talked about the good fortune he'd had in life, from signing with the Buffalo Bills football team after college to a knee injury that led him to his successful acting career. Despite joining the cast of Beverly Hills 90210 two years after the show's launch, the cast made him feel welcome, an experience for which he is forever grateful.

Even when his acting career has encountered resistance, he's taken it with good humor. When he was cast as Superman, some critics decried his one-quarter Japanese heritage, saying, "We wanted Superman, not Sushiman!" Cain roared with laughter when recounting this tale, saying, "I love racial jokes!"

For those pursuing an acting career of their own, he recommended having a thick skin and not taking things personally. "You'll hear 'no' a million times; just assume they're wrong every time," he coached. Often, the decision isn't even a reflection on an actor's skill: "Nepotism is alive and well" in Hollywood, he said. The only slack he cuts his own family is in World of Warcraft, which he plays with his then-12-year-old son.

The next panel starred Bruce Boxleitner, who held the title role in TRON and was John Sheridan on Babylon 5. A sci-fi actor whose career spans decades, he recounted being on the set of TRON Legacy and pulling aside actor Garrett Hedlund, who played Sam Flynn. This movie's title is no coincidence, he warmly reminded Hedlund; it's what he and Jeff Bridges and will be remembered for. "TRON will live on long after us," he said. Then, turning cold, he warned: "Don't f*$% it up." Expect more TRON movies to come.

Boxleitner also commented on films that had come out that summer, such as the Alien prequel Prometheus, which he described as "a lot of promise and no delivery." For lack of better options when stuck on an airplane, he watched the in-flight showing of a Twilight movie. "Thank God [that series] is over."

Boxleitner has tried his hand at a variety of genres and media and continues to flex his creative muscles. When asked if he prefers comedic or dramatic characters, he replied, "I don't prefer. There's comedy in every character, and drama in every character." He did some voice acting for the video game Spec Ops: The Line, which he thought would "be much bigger and make me much richer." (Nonetheless, I was humbled when he recorded a segment for the Open Apple podcast, which can be heard at 5:40 into our June 2013 episode.) He's currently developing a steampunk television series called Lantern City, which so far has only a graphic novel prequel. He has also tried his hand at writing novels — he autographed my copy of Frontier Earth — but would says that his 2001 novel Searcher will be his last, saying that he is "not a natural-born writer."

Other stars I got to meet at Super Megafest 2013 included Kevin Sorbo and John Wesley Shipp, the latter having starred as the DC superhero The Flash in the 1990 television series of the same name. Both Sorbo and Shipp recorded Open Apple bumpers for me, free with their autograph, which I much appreciated. At an unhurried moment, Shipp also reflected on how fortunate he's been in Hollywood. Though he doesn't necessarily believe in a deity that favors him — that would be unfair to the actors who didn't get the parts for which he was cast — he does marvel at the fortune that has brought him steady work, both large and small. I appreciated hearing from Shipp, Cain, and others that actors, who themselves are often deified by pop culture, can still be humble and grateful.

Finally, I got Stan Lee's autograph, but he did not have a panel (at least one I attended), nor did he offer personalized autographs.

Super Megafest continues to offer a unique cast of celebrities with which to entice geeks a city 20 miles west of Boston. As you'll find in my 2013 report, it has its growing pains, but to which I am happy to contribute. In the meantime, enjoy the below photo gallery. I attended the event with my former co-worker Gene; visit his blog for more details and photos!


Duck Tape TRON

22-Aug-11 9:04 PM by
Filed under Humor; Comments Off on Duck Tape TRON

This TRON video came out just today and is sure to be a viral hit — so I'm doing my part and sharing it with Showbits readers, my favorite Internet denizens.

Has TRON's light cycle scene ever been so masterfully recreated than by this work of TRON Guy? I met Jay Maynard at ROFLCon a few years ago, and this advertisement for Duck-brand duct tape is the perfect amalgamation of his stereotyped perception and actual personality. Besides, what genius is it to advertise a specific brand of tape? It's like comedian Steven Wright has said: you never see an advertisement for string. All it takes is one ad to put your product ahead of the competition. I'd say Duck Tape just soared well past the other brands on the grid.

(Hat tip to 8 Bit Weapon)

Reimagining TRON 1.0

21-Apr-10 9:52 AM by
Filed under Films, Trailers; 1 comment.

In the eight months before the release of TRON Legacy, fans are whetting their need for new media by reinterpreting the franchise's origin. TRON, now 28 years old, reflects the era in which it was crafted: crude CGI and evil supercomputers aren't as much en vogue now as they were when both fields were nascent. What if it had been made thirty years later … or earlier?

Trailers have also changed a great deal over the decades, having once been more verbose, lackluster, and narrated, as evidenced by this 1982 preview for TRON:

Now let's take that same source material and recut it into something a bit more exciting:

A drastic improvement, no? The new trailer even runs the same length as the original, showing how much more effectively one can use an equal amount of time. But imagine how disappointed it would be to have been enticed into the theater by such a stunning an action-packed film, only to witness these opening credits:

These credits are designed in the style of Saul Bass, the graphic designer and filmmaker whose credits include North by Northwest, West Side Story, and Love in the Afternoon. As stylistic as TRON itself was, I don't find it's one that meshes well with this colorful intro.

How much of these design aspects can we expect to see in TRON Legacy? Will it be a successor in aesthetic as well as plot? Its first trailer bodes well; it's not long until we'll know conclusively.

(Hat tip to 8 Bit Weapon)

TRON Legacy: A New Generation

10-Mar-10 12:00 PM by
Filed under Films; Comments Off on TRON Legacy: A New Generation

The fervor is mounting as a well-orchestrated hype machine continues to dole out details about this December's release of TRON Legacy, the sequel to the 1982 cult classic about a game programmer transported to the digital realm he created. Building on a previous proof-of-concept and then the same scene recreated as a teaser trailer, a full-length trailer for TRON Legacy has now been revealed.

Whereas the TRON 2.0 video game and subsequent comic book starred the son of Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), TRON's programmer, TRON Legacy appears to focus on the son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges).

This trailer reveals more than just an apparent replacement of back-lit animation with CGI. The plot indicates that, by the time his son comes looking for him, Flynn has been lost in the world of TRON for at least two days. Consider the implications! In the 28 years since the original TRON, advances in technology have produced computers that run at 3 GHz and can perform ten petaflops (1015 floating point operations per second). For one's consciousness to exist at that rate for 172,800 seconds would seem an eternity (a concept previously seen in such sci-fi as Star Trek: Voyager). After such a long separation from humanity, Flynn Jr. would understandably find his father older, wiser, and possibly far more sinister. As much as I hate to see heroes become villains — I'm looking at you, Hal Jordan — I recognize that such a plot device can make for excellent narrative. Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner obviously have faith in the script to have signed on to reprise their roles; we shall know in just a few months whether that faith is well-placed.

As with the original film, look for a simultaneous video game tie-in, TRON Evolution, on Windows, Sony PlayStation 3, and Microsoft Xbox 360. And to further explore the concept of life inside your computer, check out the television series ReBoot.

(Hat tip to

TRON's Legacy Revealed

07-Aug-09 11:38 AM by
Filed under Trailers; 1 comment.

While I was hanging with geeks in Kansas City, other geeks were congregating at Comic-Con, a veritable explosion of all things sci-fi. Many exciting announcements and previews came out of the event, not the least of which is a trailer for TRON Legacy, heretofore known as TR2N:

Although this trailer contains original footage, its script is almost identical with that of the proof of concept video released this past fall. In fact, Apple brands this new trailer as a VFX concept test. I've never known a studio to stick so closely to the same demo. Whereas the film was previously scheduled for a 2011 release, we're now looking at December 2010 — so shouldn't we be seeing new scenes, not rehashing old ones?

Regardless of its originality, the above trailer is beautiful and worth watching several times. Accompanying it was the launch of several promotional sites, such as Flynn Lives and Home of TRON. These are just two of many outlets to tide you over until the 1982 film gets the sequel it deserves. Play the game. Read the interview. Watch the RiffTrax.

Whatever your choice, I suspect that in a year, we'll learn that it's not so easy on the other side of the screen.

RiffTrax on TRON: It's Hard to Overstate My Satisfaction

22-May-09 1:03 PM by
Filed under Films; 1 comment.

I love TRON. I love RiffTrax. Combine the two, and I'm in heaven.

I was witness to this union five years ago at a now-defunct local arthouse cinema, when comedian Chris Hanel and his troupe arrived for a live riffing of the film, MST3K-style. Just a few years later, RiffTrax was born, and then iRiffs, allowing independent parties to publish their riffs. So Hanel & Co. dusted off their script, brought it up to date, and published the first TRON iRiff:

If there's one thing I love as much as movies, it's video games. well before I actually played the Xbox 360 game Portal, I was enamoured with its end credits song, masterfully written by Jonathan Coulton. It's an admiration I share with Bill Corbett, who actually performed on stage with Jonathan, Paul, and Storm one lucky night last year.

That talent was recently reunited when Bill invited the musicians to the RiffTrax studios:

The end product of this grueling training: yet another riff on TRON!

I'm such a fan of Jonathan Coulton and his many varied works that I was a bit surprised to not find his RiffTrax sample as amusing as Hanel's iRiff — but it's hard to judge a 90-minute project on just a two-minute cut. One can never have too much TRON paraphernalia, so both groups will be getting my financial endorsement, regardless. Look for the final release of the Coulton riff on May 26.

(Hat tip to Satellite News)

TRON 2: More Than a Game

08-Oct-08 7:23 PM by
Filed under Trailers; 3 comments.

You don't need to be a dedicated Showbits reader to have observed my passion for TRON. It was upon its 25th anniversary last year that I reflected: "Computers and electronic games were both still new media back [in 1982]… These nascent industries could've been horribly misrepresented to the unwashed masses, and there surely was a degree of artistic license on [TRON's] silver screen, with its AIs, lasers, and whatnot. But the way its digital society was structured and how software interacted with each other and with their users worked on both digital and HCI levels."

It was at that time that rumors started to circulate of a sequel. I was of course hesitant at the prospect of some disrespectful director cashing in on the brand by rehashing the plot using modern technology and context. Fortunately, the last few months have alleviated my concerns, starting with a trailer for TR2N, as its called. The preview seems to contain no actual film footage, but its debut at Comic-Con revealed the cooperation of a key franchise figure. Watch it before Disney's lawyers yank it off YouTube yet again:

Like WarGames 2, TR2N is not a remake, update, or reboot — it is a true sequel. Its awareness of present-day cyberspace harkens back to when I asked visual effects specialist John Knoll "Do you think a Tron movie could succeed nowadays?". He responded:

I don't know! Whatever made [TRON] not successful in the first place would probably still be present in a remake, if they went with the same story. The fundamental plot devices are anachronistic now, so it'd need to be updated to be Internet-aware, with much less emphasis on mainframe computers and a much higher emphasis on personal computers and small portable devices. You could go in the Matrix direction, where some aspect of his personality is transferred over into the computer and they're linked in a way.

Another good sign: IGN recently interviewed Jeff Bridges, who seems genuinely enthusiastic about the project. As Star Trek novelist Dayton Ward told me, "It's neat that he sounds so excited to be doing this. It's not like he needs the money or anything."

The IMDb lists TR2N for a 2011 release. I hope that gives the cast and crew time to produce a final product that we, too, can be excited about.